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By Jessica Kartalija

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. Now a Maryland scientist has discovered a way to diagnose pancreatic cancer before it spreads.

But, as Jessica Kartalija explains, the scientist is only 15.

Pancreatic cancer is the most difficult cancer to diagnose and by the time a patient learns they have the disease, it’s usually too late.

Enter North County High School freshman Jack Andraka.

“I’m really passionate about science. It’s just my thing,” he said. “I like working on medical research.”

That love of science earned him the grand prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his creation of a test that detects early stage pancreatic cancer.

“It detects an abnormal protein that you find in the blood when you have a pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Anirban Maitra, professor of Pathology, Oncology and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “He conceived this idea and I think the fact that he is 15 makes this whole story more remarkable.”

This year, an estimated 43,920 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States and approximately 37,390 will die from the disease. Pancreatic cancer has the lowest relative survival rate of all the cancers tracked by both the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute; 94 percent of pancreatic cancer patients will die within five years of diagnosis and 74 percent will die within the first year.

“I got interested in early detection because that’s the best chance of treating the cancer,” Andraka said. “The only practical way of doing this is through routine blood tests so that’s what I developed here.”

Andraka’s test is 90 percent accurate and less expensive than other tests.

At an awards ceremony in Pittsburgh, Andraka took home more than $100,000 in prize money that he says he will put toward college.

“They gave him an opportunity to make his dreams come true,” said Jack’s mother, Jane Andraka.

The projects were evaluated by 1,200 judges.

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