North County High School junior Jack Andraka is versed enough in the sciences to have created a cancer-detection method that has garnered him worldwide acclaim. But when it comes to knowing Latin and Italian, the Crownsville student isn't quite as accomplished.
So during a recent visit to the Vatican to receive an award honoring his invention, Andraka listened as scholars lauded his groundbreaking efforts — all the while having no idea what they were saying.
"They said something in Italian, and they gave me a standing ovation, so apparently it was good," said Andraka, who received the International Giuseppe Sciacca Award, which, according to the award website, is given to young people whose work have made them role models for others.
The award is named in honor of Giuseppe Sciacca, a 26-year-old architecture student who died in an accident involving a parachute failure in 1986. Andraka said prior to being told via email that he had won, he had scarcely heard anything about the award.
Andraka's achievement involves his development of a medical "dipstick" testing method that helps detect early stage pancreatic cancer. In addition to his mid-November visit to the Vatican, he also spent a week in Berlin, where he visited the Max Planck Society, a German research organization.
The European visit was the latest highlight for Andraka, whose testing method earned him the $75,000 grand prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May 2012. Back then, among those who spoke of his bright future was Dr. Anirban Maitra, a professor in the Johns Hopkins University's department of pathology, who gave Andraka use of his lab to help him craft his invention.
"You're going to read about him a lot in the years to come," Maitra said about Andraka at the time.
It hasn't taken long for that prediction to come true.
Speaking Monday shortly after returning from the Europe visit, Andraka said his next stop was New York City this week, where he was to meet with documentary film maker Ken Burns, who is currently working on a documentary series called, "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies."
Andraka has been featured on CNN, the BBC, ABC World News and Smithsonian magazine. His Facebook fan page has more than 19,000 "likes."
He's still in talks with "several large biotech companies" about bringing his dipstick method to the marketplace. "We're nearing a deal," Andraka said.
"It has been really a life-changing process," said Andraka about winning the Intel award. "I've had experiences I didn't even know existed before. I've got to meet some amazing people. It's just absolutely incredible. The Vatican was very cool. It was a very surreal experience being able to go in and see all the stuff there. It was very fun."
Andraka said that while traveling, he has managed to keep up with his homework enough to continue to post straight As. He had testing and classwork while in Europe, he said.
"I just work a lot with my teachers to make sure I get all of my work done," he said. "It's definitely a difficult process to do. It's quite a balancing act."
And the North County High student has also used the opportunity to speak on topics about which he's passionate. While in Germany, he said, he spoke about the need to allow everyone to have open access to medical literature, not just those who can pay.
"I think that's really important to scientific innovation in general, because having everyone access should be a commodity," Andraka said. "Science should not be a luxury. It should be a basic human right."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun