Against All Odds

Jack AndrakaImagine a problem you would like to solve. Think about a problem that affects millions of people, plants, or animals rather than a problem that affects only you. Now think about the tools you would need to solve the problem. If you don’t have everything you need, how will you obtain it? At age 15, Jack Andraka created a tool (see picture in the left corner) to accurately detect the presence of early-stage pancreatic cancer. Thanks to his innovation and invention, some forms of cancer are now detectible and treatable. In the following video, Andraka explains how he created the tool that saves lives and the obstacles to innovation he encountered.

According to Andraka, the two most important lessons he learned about innovation are:

  1. Access to the internet is critical to innovation and collaboration.
  2. Access to knowledge, much of which is locked behind pay walls, is also critical to innovation.

In other words, discrimination prevents innovation — the only people who have access to the tools and knowledge necessary to innovate are the wealthy.


  • What motivated Andraka to act?
  • What motivates you to act?
  • Do you consider Andraka a success or failure for finding 3,999 proteins that did not predict pancreatic cancer? Why?
  • How are Thomas Edison and Jack Andraka similar?
  • If you are looking for answers, when would you stop looking?
  • Do you consider Andraka a success or failure for receiving rejections from 199 labs? Why?
  • What would you do if your success depended on resources you could not easily obtain?
  • What problem would you like to solve if you had access to all the tools and knowledge necessary to solve the problem?

Thanks to Wendy who shared the video with me, TEDx Houses of Parliament, Jack Andraka, YouTube, and all the other people who made it possible for me to include the picture and video I used in this post.

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