Cancer breakthrough whiz kid snags seat with Michelle Obama at the State of the Union

(CBS News) One of the guests at President Barack Obama's State of the Union address is responsible for a major breakthrough in the battle against cancer -- and he's not even old enough to vote.

First lady Michelle Obama invited a number of people to sit with her during the president's address. Among them was 16-year-old Jack Andraka, of Maryland. He's obsessed with carbon nanotubes -- and has been since he was a pre-teen -- and he's come up with a way to use them to test for cancer in a way that experts hadn't even thought of.

Last spring, Andraka won one of the world's most prestigious science awards, along with $75,000. And on Tuesday, Andraka sat in the first lady's box during the State of the Union address. "You're like, 'Whoa there's the first lady, there's the president, oh my goodness. It was just so exciting," Andraka said of the experience.

How he got there is a story that began tragically more than two years ago when a close family friend died from pancreatic cancer. Andraka wanted to invent a way to fight the disease that takes 100 lives a day. And, he found one -- a paper sensor that detects pancreatic cancer in its early phases -- 28 times faster and less expensively than anything else.

Andraka said he came up with the idea when he was just 14 years old in his high school biology class.

Last year's grand prize at the world's biggest high school science fair was just the beginning. On Monday, he got a call from the White House. "First I thought it was just fundraising," he said.

Instead, it was an invitation to the State of the Union and a chance to speak with the president. Andraka recalling the conversation with the president said, "He was asking me like, 'Did you get a patent on this, are you talking with different companies?'"

Andraka's mother Jane Andraka said, "I never thought he'd come to the White House, to the State of the Union and bring his mom and dad. How amazing is that?"

Andraka plans to use his prize money to go to college. And he's already conjuring up his next invention. He said he's trying to develop something the size of a smartphone that you can pass over your skin to diagnose any disease instantly, a kind of MRI the size of a credit card.

CBS News' Nancy Cordes said Andraka isn't just smart, he's persistent. He asked 200 scientists for lab space before one of them agreed. He worked on his invention for seven months, and now there are seven companies that are interested in manufacturing it.

For Nancy Cordes' full report, watch the video in the player above.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

The Newsroom