The following script is from "Boy Wonder" which aired on Oct. 13, 2013. The correspondent is Morley Safer. Katy Textor, producer.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive and deadly cancers, in part because often by the time it's diagnosed the disease has spread to other parts of the body. So when news broke last year that a test had been developed that might detect early pancreatic cancer, the research world not only took notice, it went into shock -- for the test hadn't been developed by some renowned cancer research institute, but by a boy wonder, a 15-year-old high school freshman named Jack Andraka. He then convinced an eminent cancer researcher to let him use his lab to develop his theory, all before he even had a license to drive. And while the test must undergo years of clinical trials, the biotech industry has already beaten a path to Jack's door.
To learn more about pancreatic cancer, go to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
This is Jack Andraka as he beats out 1,500 contestants and wins the grand prize at the Intel International Science Fair with his invention. Like a modern day Rocky, this self-described science geek took the stage and $100,000 in prize money. Pure, unadulterated, adolescent joy.
Morley Safer: When you won the Intel Award-- your reaction went viral on the Internet, correct?
Jack Andraka: Yes, yes, it did.
Morley Safer: It's a no-joke award.
Jack Andraka: I wasn't expecting any awards there. Then when I won, I was just flabbergasted. I was, like, freaking out. I was just like, "What?"
Morley Safer: Yes, you were.
Jack Andraka: "Me?"
Jack Andraka's journey from suburban Baltimore high school freshman to cancer researcher began at age 14 when a family friend died of pancreatic cancer. Shocked that there is no reliable early test for the disease, Jack decided he would develop one. He began probing the Internet for everything he could find about pancreatic cancer biomarkers. He read research articles during class and in the middle of biology while stealthily reading a medical journal. The teacher was not amused.
Jack Andraka: I swear, she has, like, eyes on the back of her head or something. She sees me. And she storms up to my desk and is like, "Mr. Andraka, what is this?" and, like, snatches it out of my hand.
Morley Safer: As if you had Playboy Magazine right?
Jack Andraka: Yeah, yeah. I'm just like-- it was just a science article. Shouldn't this be a good thing?
When he told his parents Steve and Jane Andraka about his project they weren't exactly encouraging.
Steve Andraka: My reaction wasn't a good one. I sa-- I s-- "Jack, isn't that a little far-fetched?
Jane Andraka: And I know that when you're 14 you can't just run out and get a lab. A lot of people, you know, are like, "We don't train middle schoolers."
But Jack decided to find one that did. Over the course of four months he prepared a test protocol for his theory and sent it out to 200 cancer researchers.
Jack Andraka: I essentially had to send them my budget, my procedure, my timeline and materials list. And I actually got 199 rejections out of those. Some professors ripped apart my procedure completely. But one professor, Dr. Anirban Maitra, finally said yes.
Morley Safer: An encouraging yes?
Jack Andraka: It was like, "This idea might work." And he starts interrogating me kind of firing questions, trying to sink my procedure in a way. But I answered all of them.
Dr. Anirban Maitra was a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University and now heads pancreatic cancer research at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He says his curiosity was piqued by Jack's proposal.
Dr. Anirban Maitra: Well, it's not every day that you get an email from a 15 year old that comes with a detailed protocol with methods and supplies and what pitfalls you might run into, and I said, "Maybe I'll get you a corner in my lab and we'll have one of the post doctoral fellows supervising you. Let's see where all this all goes."
For the next seven months after school and on weekends, Jack's mother would drop him off at the lab where he learned basic lab techniques and worked on developing his cancer test.
Jack Andraka: Finally, one day in March, I realized this was actually working. Like, it was working amazingly. Because it was passing all of these preliminary tests. And I run out and pretty much, like, screaming around the lab. I finally go out and rush into my mom's car. And, like, me and her are screaming in the car. And then, of course, I have school the next day.
, a protein that the body produces in pancreatic cancer's early -- and most treatable -- stage.
Morley Safer: What exactly are you doing now?
Jack Andraka: So essentially what this is, is it's one of my strips and what you do is you first get an original measurement of how the electricity flows across it.
The paper strip is coated with a carbon substance that attracts mesothelin. It is placed in an apparatus that Jack built in his parents' garage.
Jack Andraka: And I'm just taking out one single drop of blood here.
A high level of mesothelin in a patient's blood sample may indicate the first stages of pancreatic cancer.