Right to Research Coalition


Open Access Empowers 16-year-old Jack Andraka to Create Breakthrough Cancer Diagnostic

Open Access Empowers 16-year-old to Create Breakthrough Cancer Diagnostic: An Interview with Jack Andraka and Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health

Jack Andraka is a perfect example of the power of Open Access, the free availability of all academic research articles online with full reuse rights. Only 16 years old, Jack discovered a breakthrough pancreatic cancer diagnostic using carbon nanotubes. Jack’s test costs $0.03 and takes 5 minutes to run with nearly 100% accuracy so far, making it 26,667 times cheaper, 168 times faster, and 400 times more sensitive than the current test commonly used for pancreatic cancer. Jack went on to win the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. His story would not be possible without Open Access.

“I hit a lot of paywalls, like you have to pay $40 per article, and unfortunately I couldn’t shell out a lot of that,” said Andraka. “So, instead, I would have to cheat and copy the article title back into Google and look for PDF versions, and a lot of the time I actually found them on the NIH PubMed site.”

Jack has previously said he used free online academic journals “religiously” as well as the National Institute of Health’s online article database, called PubMed Central (PMC). PubMed Central is a centralized database of articles in the biomedical sciences that has become an invaluable resource to students, researchers, and practitioners in the field:

“PubMed Central gets 830,000 hits and about 1.6 million articles downloaded every day,” said Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the National Institutes of Health. “We have a policy that papers from NIH-funded researchers must be made available through PubMed Central within 12 months of publication. The goal is that all scientific papers are open access. . . it’s making such a difference.” 

The 2008 NIH policy described by Dr. Collins results in more than 90,000 articles being made freely available through PMC each year. This policy is a strong start, but it only covers a fraction of all the scientific and scholarly articles published annually. This means access barriers still frequently prevent researchers who want to build on the cutting edge from doing so. As Jack says, “There are millions of people like me. If you can just get on Google and Wikipedia and find these amazing articles, we could have this great innovation, but these paywalls are stopping us.”

On February 22nd, the Obama Administration made Open Access “a priority at the highest level,” according to Dr. Collins, by issuing an Executive Directive expanding the NIH policy to require all federal science agencies to make the articles resulting from the research they fund freely available online within 12 months of publication in a journal. This directive is an important step in the right direction.

We need more Jack Andrakas, and Open Access empowers anyone to explore their scientific curiosity freely and make breakthroughs, unexpected or otherwise. As Dr. Collins mentions, “[For] anybody who cares about science, the idea of having Open Access is going to be crucial for the future.”

This interview is presented by the Right to Research Coalition, with support from the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) and the Society for Science and the Public.

For press inquiries, contact Nick Shockey, Director of the Right to Research Coalition
Phone: 202-296-2296
Email: nick [at] arl [dot] org