Jack Andraka: Boy wonder vs stagnation in medicine


When you grow up with Google and Wikipedia in your blood it’s no wonder that at some point in your life you come up with an idea inspired by it. Though when you put that idea into action and create a method, which makes the detection of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer 90% accurate, 168x faster, 400x more sensitive and 26.000x less expensive, then you have someone with a revolutionary story. When you realize next that the inventor is a 16 years old boy called Jack Andraka who recently had dinner with Obama, you are nothing less than a boy wonder and deserve nothing less than a spot at the TEDxNijmegen stage.

And so he talks like an experienced speaker about the crisis in medicine called stagnation, a stagnation that is worsened by the fact of diseases mutating and getting more difficult and expensive to diagnose. This incrementalism is becoming the worst enemy of innovation. His own experience with the stagnation in medicine is when his uncle died of cancer. Therefore, Andraka pleas to revolutionize medical technology by moving from a symptoms-based diagnostics system to a molecular diagnostics system, since this is far more accurate. He also pleas to ignore the medical system at times, just because the traditional medical system sometimes is too slow.

The experience with his uncle and the stagnation in medicine inspired Jack Andraka to work out his idea with the help of Google and Wikipedia. Next he contacted numerous professors at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health about his plan. After getting nothing but rejections and nearly giving up, he finally got a positive reply from a professor of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In 2012 Jack became the grand prize winner of the Intel Science Fair and was awarded the Gordon Moore Award. Up till now he won a total award of $100,000 for his groundbreaking detection method. Currently Andraka together with companies is trying to develop an over-the-counter test, making his method even more attainable.

In the light of Michiel Mullers talk and Sir Ken Robinsons talk, Jack Andraka is a living example of the importance of cultivating creativity within school systems and proves we have all the more reason to nourish young entrepreneurs.

A live  blog by Wouter Wolters