Jack Andraka, the gay 16-year-old science prodigy who developed an early-detection test for pancreatic cancer, was honored by the Vatican over the weekend.
Andraka journeyed from his home in Maryland to Rome to accept the International Giuseppe Sciacca Award, which honors young people for outstanding accomplishments, reports Baltimore radio station WBAL. It is named for an Italian architecture student who died at age 26.
Andraka has been featured on TV programs including The Colbert Report and 60 Minutes; the latter received some criticism for not mentioning that the youth is gay. However, in a Saturday interview with WBAL, Andraka did not shy away from this fact.
“It’s really amazing to be recognized by the Vatican, especially as a gay scientist,” he said. “I mean this would be unheard of just a few years ago. To be part of this bridge of progress is really amazing. It just shows how much the world has grown to accept people that are gay and are LGBT. It’s really amazing.” Andraka was also named to this year’s Out100 list of the most significant LGBT people by The Advocate’s sister publication Out.
Andraka said he hoped to receive an audience with Pope Francis before leaving Rome Sunday; there’s no word so far on whether this took place. After his visit to the Vatican, Andraka was scheduled to go to Berlin to spend a week at the Max Planck Society, a scientific group, promoting open access to research, WBAL reports.
Andraka’s test for pancreatic cancer is significant because this is one of the deadliest forms of the disease, difficult to detect before it has affected other organs. He is in negotiations with a couple of biotech firms to refine and market the test, which would likely be available to the public in five to 10 years.