27 July 2013

A STROLL WITH JACK ANDRAKA (For World Hepatitis Day)

                               "Hepatitis doesn't always present symptoms"  ~Karen Gonzales

For Hepatitis, killing is as easy as ABC...DE (no pun intended...haha) I still remember that night about 11 years ago, it was a great night and we had just finished dinner until mum’s phone rang. She received a phone call telling her that Grand pa had passed away, mum cried, dad cried, we all cried—grand pa was so close to mum that he used to always carry her on his lap when we visited the village—They say he complained of a severe headache and his eyes were yellowish...That was it, suddenly his liver couldn't take it anymore. RIP Mr. Akpan John—See you in heaven.

It’s not just Grand pa, many people around the world no longer have the liver to live because hepatitis had eaten it up. WHO says about 1.4 million people die annually from the Hepatitis infection. Well, the vaccines are there, but the thing is the waves of diseases that are fighting the Medical world in recent times have created a vacuum in this generation—a need for that innovator, that genius! That’ll stand up and confront these diseases.

My guest on the stroll today is a genius—and he embodies every letter of the word genius—he’s one of those people that are tired of seeing obituary posters and hearing death statistics on TV, so he stood up and did something. He participated in the INTEL ISEF competition—the world’s largest high school science research competition—and he won! His ground breaking research on pancreatic cancer helped him come up with a new method of diagnosing cancer that is 168 times faster, 26,000 times cheaper, 400 times more sensitive, and has a 99% success rate! Yeah, wow! That’s the same thing I said when I first read about him (hahah). You’d also notice that Cancer and hepatitis are similar in the sense that early detection is the only key to surviving their attack. So I had a stroll with Jack and we talked about his research, the possible solutions to the Hepatitis problem in the world, and much more. Here is our discussion:

Ebenezar: Thank you for having this stroll with me bro...

Jack: You’re welcome.

Ebenezar: You won the Intel Science Competition last year (2012)—and by the way, your research was really awesome—what have you been up to since then? more research? Or are you also competing this year?

Jack: I was so excited to be able to attend ISEF 2012 . I was able to visit as an observer when my older brother competed and I was just blown away by the quality of the projects. It became my dream to compete as well!  Then when I won—as a 15 year old freshman—it was beyond my wildest dream. It still seems unreal!

Jack's reaction when he won (Image Source: Jackandraka.net)

Ebenezar: hahaha...Yeah, I know how that feels.

Jack: haha... since then I've traveled all over the world talking about my research and the obstacles I needed to overcome to succeed. I've been able to meet President Clinton, Nobel Prize winners, student researchers from around the world and even talk to President Obama at the State of the Union address.

Jack and President Obama
I somehow managed to balance schoolwork, exams, travel, and research this year. I had to put my wild water kayak training on hold for a bit because there just wasn't time for everything. I have been able to fit in some kayaking this summer though (hahaha).

I've also been working on the Qualcom Tricorder X Prize project with my team of teens. Everyone has a piece of the project and we Skype and email each other about progress or (most recently) snags. It's fun working on this challenging project.
I've been doing some research on my own as well in hopes of returning to ISEF this spring. We'll see how it progresses.

Ebenezar: Wow! I’m sure many people will be looking forward to your return at ISEF J. And just in case Jack blows us away with something new this year, know that you first heard it exclusively on the stroll (haha) Alright, Have you gotten a patent for your pancreatic test? Is it available for commercial use?

Jack: I have both US and International patents for my sensor. Right now I'm in non disclosure talks with bio tech companies to get the sensor made more quickly and uniformly so it can go into clinical trials. It's a longer journey than I realized; to bring it from proof of concept to a diagnostic available to consumers! 

Image Credit: Jack Andraka
Ebenezar: Okay, July 28th is World Hepatitis day, and apart from cancer, AIDS, malaria and Tuberculosis . . . Hepatitis is a really big notorious 'serial killer' in the world today. What do you think about this disease? Is it possible to eradicate it?

Jack: I know there are vaccines for some forms of hepatitis but not for hepatitis C. I hope one day there could be a vaccine for C as well. We can eradicate it through more education along with needle exchanges and screening of blood donors.

Ebenezar: You know unlike Cancer, Hepatitis doesn't get much publicity. Yet it is really deadly because of its close to invisible symptoms. What do you think we can do about this?

Jack: I think having celebrities who have the disease talk openly about it, how to prevent it and how it is affecting their lives is a really important tool to get people to care. Just like a presentation of any kind first you have to get people's interest and make them care. Then they will be more interested in either supporting research or practicing safe habits to keep themselves safe.

Image Source:tribune
Ebenezar: The other day on twitter we—you and I—were talking about biomimicry, the
natural solutions to health challenges, and back then you said it'd be a great research topic. Don't you think it's high time Scientists come out of the lab into the Wild to learn some natural life principles?

Jack: I know many researchers are turning to nature to discover solutions to health challenges. After all, nature has had millions of years to evolve elegant or simple solutions. That's why it's so important that people think outside their particular field, read journals and attend lectures in fields they may know little about. I recently visited Open University in the UK where they have labs from different disciplines in the same hallways; that way people 'cross pollinate' ideas and information really naturally. My mentor Dr Maitra, tells me about colleagues who regularly bring home stacks of journals from different fields. I think great ideas can come from the intersection of completely different fields.

Ebenezar: Yeah, that’s really true... Okay, are there other sides to Jack apart from Science? What are your other hobbies?

Jack: I love to fold modular origami! I make all kinds of beautiful, colorful geometric shapes and give them as gifts. I really like to white water kayak as well. I just returned from a weeklong trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho. Its wild and scenic free flowing river was a great place to decompress, run challenging rapids and see all kinds of wildlife.

Image Credit: timeequalslives

Ebenezar: What does it feel like giving TEDtalks at several TED events?

Jack: I envision being on stage and giving my talk in my mind while I walk around the house. My family knows if I'm pacing back and forth, swinging my ipod headphone wildly and muttering to myself... I'm ok; I'm just practicing my talks!

Ebenezar: Hahahahah... I can just imagine that.

Jack: Yeah, I really enjoy learning from other speakers and improving my presentations. I'm not usually nervous but I'm very focused right before my talk. At the big TED 2013 or at House of Parliament, I am not super good at rehearsal but then I really focus and step up my game at the big event!
Jack during speaker's rehearsal at TEDxUNPlaza
(Image credit: @TEDxUNPlaza)
Ebenezar: Okay, Finally for some scientists their biggest dream is to win the Nobel Prize, for others it's to see their inventions solving problems around the world. What is your biggest dream?

Jack: I don’t have one big dream. I really enjoy a big challenge. Sometimes my parents think I bite off more than I should, but I am very motivated by big challenges that make me stretch, learn and really work to satisfy my curiosity in advancing my project. I’ve learned that the journey is so much fun and luckily in science the journey is never over!

Ebenezar: haha... Exactly it's a timeless journey. Thank you so much for having this stroll with me bro, I wish you success in all your projects and I hope we get to stroll again some other time. I really had fun!

Jack: Thanks for your support bro! It was great strolling with you!

For more about Jack(@jackandraka) visit his website here

Prevention is still the best pill you can ever pop! And there are things you can do to prevent Hepatitis like; getting vaccinated, washing your hands regularly, avoiding reuse of needles or use of unsterilized sharp objects—doctors and barbers take note—avoiding promiscuity; stick to one partner only! Forget that jargon talk about how ‘safe’ condoms are, and also not sharing personal stuff like toothbrush, shaving blades, etc.

Jack said celebrities can also help this campaign a great deal by getting involved, and I agree with him. The current awareness we have about AIDS is due to the publicity done by many public figures around the world. I think we can do same for hepatitis! Artists, musicians, actors, soccer stars, writers,...let’s all do our part to break this silence about hepatitis.

Visit the World Hepatitis Alliance or the WHO for more about Hepatitis and how you can get involved. Don’t forget to visit the medical center nearest to you before the end of this week for check up!

Till my next Stroll, Be good. . . Jesus Loves You

By: Ebenezar Wikina (@poeticjazz)
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  1. What impresses me is the dude's age, maturity and big plans for the future...

    I wish him and us more successes

  2. Another enlightening stroll, Ebenezer. You're making a difference - just like Jack. Do keep it up.

  3. This absolutely brilliant. Great job, Jack Andraka. Keep on doing what you are doing which is positively impacting the world.

  4. Good work bro... Stay motivated @Ebenezar