Rishab Jain was recently named America’s Top Young Scientist for his invention

By Jessica Fecteau
October 29, 2018 01:03 PM
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Discovery Education: Andy King

A middle school student from Portland, Oregon is helping doctors improve the results of radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer patients.

Rishab Jain, 13, was recently awarded the honor of America’s Top Young Scientist by Discovery Education and 3M for an invention that makes radiotherapy more effective.

“Radiotherapy is the treatment that’s used in some stages of pancreatic cancer to help shrink a tumor down to a point at which can be surgically removed,” Jain tells PEOPLE.

Jain says that his invention makes radiotherapy treatment more efficient by honing in on the exact location of the pancreas. “Currently, when patients are in a CT or MRI-guided radiotherapy machine, doctors have to manually adjust for any errors of the pancreas moving due to breathing or anatomical changes and size of the body,” he explains.

“Sometimes the radiation can hit healthy cells and end up killing them. It can cause side effects and other serious issues. What my tool does, in real time — meaning instantaneously whenever the scans from CT or MRI machine are outputted — is takes those scans in and locate exactly where the pancreas is so the radiotherapy can be applied effectively to that spot.”

Jain, who worked alongside Dr. Döne Demirgöz, a 3M corporate supply chain black belt and product development and research expert, says his tool has an accuracy rate of more than 80 percent.

Discovery Education: Andy King

The seventh grader had a family friend die of pancreatic cancer a few months ago and says he hopes to see a cure during his lifetime.

Jain developed an interest in science at an early age. He first started learning programming when he was 7, after being inspired by his brother and father who did coding.

“I started with basic drag-and-drop programming and then started making apps,” Jain says.

He started to learn about the needs of pancreatic cancer patients when he visited his older brother in Boston.

“I came to know about pancreatic cancer research that was happening at a nearby laboratory so there I learned about low survival rates are and how many people it affected and how it took a toll on so many people’s lives,” Jain says. “At the same time I was doing programming and learning about artificial intelligence so I tried to combine the two areas and help solve a real-world problem.”

When not helping to create new medical technology, Jain is just a regular kid, a Boy Scout who likes to run, go camping and do Rubik speedcubing. But biology and programming are his main passions, and the topics already have him thinking about his college years.

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“For my undergraduate, I want a biomedical degree,” he says. “It encompasses two fields that I enjoy the most: engineering for programming and working around artificial intelligence, and medicine for learning about pancreatic cancer and how tumors dissolve.”

He adds: “I’m highly interested in going to med school. I’d like to become a surgeon. I have some relatives that are doctors so I’ve gotten to see how they can make immediate differences in people’s lives. That interests me quite a bit.”