This weekend, the traditionally anti-gay Vatican honored 16-year-old Jack Andraka, a homosexual teen who created an early-detection test for pancreatic cancer that could help save lives.
Andraka received the International Giuseppe Sciacca Award, offered to youth who have made great achievements in the field.
“It’s really amazing to be recognized by the Vatican, especially as a gay scientist,” said Andraka. “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 lives in Maryland, where he attends Anne Arundel County high school. He developed the pancreatic cancer test at the age of 15 after a family friend died from the disease. Because tests don’t detect this form of cancer until it has already spread throughout the body, most people are only expected to live for five years after a diagnosis. With earlier testing, that life expectancy could grow.
Andraka is working with biotech companies to develop his test, which may be available to consumers within a decade.
Andraka’s next mission is to help the public gain easier access to medical research performed using taxpayer dollars. He claims that he had to pay about $35 per scientific journal article that he read while developing his test -- and that with thousands of articles to pore over, most young people could never afford it.
"Because of this we have this big disconnect between youth and science. A Katy Perry single costs 99-cents,” said Andraka. “A science article costs $35, so there is big mixed message."
The teen is headed to Berlin to meet with the Max Planck Society, with whom he will discuss his open-access idea.
After that, he will be competing in a $10-million contest by the Qualcomm Foundation. His team’s entry will be a disease-screening device that’s about the size of a cell phone.