For as long as I’ve had diabetes, people have asked if anyone else in my family also has it. My usual answer is that I have a grandma with diabetes, but that the doctors agree our diseases are not related. The truth is, that is not the whole story.
I have an aunt that was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes six years ago. She started making changes to her diet and got a gym membership – all the positive life changes that are encouraged after a diagnosis. A few months later, she was at a regular appointment with her allergist and he noticed that she was extremely jaundiced. He sent her to get more tests and the diagnosis came back quickly – pancreatic cancer.
It was with my aunt in mind that I listened to the keynote address on Saturday morning at Medicine X. Jack Andraka also had someone close to him diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
All cancer is evil, but pancreatic cancer is particularly swift and violent. My aunt passed away just a few short months after they found her cancer. Andraka realized that to improve survival rates for this cancer, we really need earlier detection. In a description that went beyond what my brain could follow, Andraka explained how a series of events, connections, and journal articles prompted him to wonder about a quicker and more accurate way to detect pancreatic cancer. He submitted his proposal to 200 different labs and was rejected by all but one of them.
Finally getting into the lab, he spent several months working on his theory and revising his technique. And ultimately, he was right.
The test is over 90 percent accurate in detecting the presence of mesothelin. According to Andraka, it is also 168 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive (costing around three cents), over 400 times more sensitive than the current diagnostic tests, and only takes five minutes to run. (source)
Did I mention that Jack Andraka is sixteen years old?
There is much more to be said about his story. The fact that he was discouraged from his pursuits by his high school curriculum. How Andraka had very little knowledge about how to accomplish his goal but still took the first step. And how he has more trouble accessing the scientific journals he needs to pursue his research, largely because of cost, than accessing the latest pop tune. You can view an early video of his Medicine X presentation here; it’s worth a watch!
Medicine X is all about getting a variety of perspectives participating together in the same room – patients, caregivers, health care practitioners, medical students, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who has an interest in the future of medicine. Technology and more importantly ACCESS to technology is the great equalizer in education and innovation. Participation may include something as simple as a doctor listening to a patient’s story in order to obtain a more accurate diagnosis. But it may also include a teenager who can change the way we look at a devastating disease. So how do we make sure that everyone’s voice is heard?