Person of the Year: The Finalists
BY Advocate.com Editors
December 16 2013 3:24 PM ET
FINALIST: JACK ANDRAKA
Most of us take our jobs seriously, but sometimes we put them in perspective by saying, “Well, it’s not like we’re curing cancer.” But this gay science prodigy’s work may actually play a role in curing cancer, by aiding in early detection. At age 15, when most kids are focused on prom dates and video games, Andraka developed a low-cost, sensitive dipstick-type test for quick and early detection of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancers.
After a close family friend’s death from cancer, Andraka began researching the disease. “What I found is that 85 percent of all cancers are diagnosed late, when someone has less than a 2 percent chance of survival, and our current method of detection costs $800, misses 30 percent of all cancers and is 60 years old. So then I decided to set out to change all this,” he recently told The Washington Post. His test is not on the market yet, but he has formed a company and applied for national and international patents. His work has won him several awards, including the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Youth Award, the International Giuseppe Sciacca Award, and the Gordon E. Moore Award, named for the founder of Intel. This year he’s wowed Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report; been profiled by 60 Minutes, which did not see any need to mention that he’s gay; and been named to the Out 100, an annual list of LGBT achievers compiled by The Advocate’s sister publication Out, which did of course note his orientation.
Andraka, now 16, attends high school in Glen Burnie, Md., does scientific research at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and is dedicated to being a “normal kid” who enjoys sports and socializing — but also to being visible as a gay scientist. “I was really afraid of coming out as gay because there are no gay scientists,” he told the Post. Many gay teens have contacted him to say he’s an inspiration, but he still has yet to find another gay scientist, he added. There are undoubtedly plenty out there, however, and Andraka’s example may well inspire more.
— Trudy Ring