Pancreatic cancer is the form of cancer which has the highest mortality rate. In fact, out of 100 patients, 94 died within five years of diagnosis. This form of cancer is difficult to detect and cure. Here’s how a 15 year old boy managed to develop a test for pancreatic cancer screening.
The pancreas is an organ of the digestive tract and is located between the stomach and the top of the small intestine. It produces different substances: digestive juices for better digestion of food, insulin and glucagon; hormones that help to regulate blood sugar in the blood.
Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed late, when the tumor is already grown outside the pancreas. In fact, when cancer cells develop in the pancreas, they multiply with time and eventually disrupt the functioning of the body, and that is when the symptoms begin to appear.
However, some symptoms can be noticed with malfunction of a person’s body, such as loss of appetite, nausea, difficulty in digesting or jaundice. If you notice these changes, see your doctor.
Also, be aware that different factors may cause the appearance of this disease, including smoking, which, according to scientists, is responsible for 20-30% of cases. Obesity and family history also increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.
A quick test to screen for pancreatic cancer
Several tests can diagnose this disease. The doctors first perform an ultrasound to see the organs inside the abdomen to check for suspicious mass in the pancreas. If a tumor is detected, a scan is performed to determine its size. Finally, to confirm the diagnosis, a biopsy is performed. However, this procedure is time consuming, costly and detects the tumor in a generally advanced stage.
15 year old Jack Andraka, invented a new method of screening. Due to the sudden death of his uncle by this disease, the young man, big biology amateur, made his small research as everyone on Google and Wikipedia. He discovered that the medicine is still detecting this disease at a late stage. Then Jack set a goal: to create cheap, easy and effective cancer screening methods. He discovered one specific protein can help detect this disease: mesothelin or MSLN.
It is naturally present in biological tissue, but it is produced in excess in case of presence of tumor cells. Dr. Anirban Maitra, a professor at the University of Maryland, then invited the young man to experiment in his laboratory.
Jack was able to develop a paper strip, like that used by diabetics, which helps to detect mesothelin in 90% of cases. This test is 168 times faster and 400 times more sensitive than ELISA, 25% to 50% more accurate than the CA19-9 test, and over 90 percent accurate in detecting the presence of mesothelin
Following this discovery, Jack Andrak won the Gordon E. Moore Science Award at Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. He said: “I plan to make this test available on the shelves of pharmacies, for people to get tested quickly, without having to go to the doctor.”