Heman Bekele, a 14-year-old African prodigy hailing from Ethiopia, has earned significant acclaim in the United States for his groundbreaking creation – a bar of soap designed to combat melanoma, a form of skin cancer.
The ninth-grader, residing in Annandale, Virginia, achieved the prestigious title of “America’s top young scientist” by triumphing over nine other contestants in the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. His remarkable achievement secured him a cash prize of $25,000.
In describing his soap’s potential, Bekele emphasised its simplicity, affordability, and accessibility compared to contemporary skin cancer treatments. He stated, “It’s charged with different cancer-fighting chemicals. And the main one, there is this drug called imidazoquinolines.” Bekele believes that with official endorsement, his soap could prove effective in the early stages of skin cancer.
The young scientist explained the rationale behind his creation, highlighting how skin cancer cells weaken dendritic cells, impeding the body’s immune responses and enabling cancer to flourish. Bekele’s soap, however, contains agents that could reactivate dendritic cells, aiding in the elimination of cancer cells.
When asked about his journey in developing the soap, Bekele shared, “A lot of my research and development started in my family’s kitchen and my basement.” He clarified that while not engaging in complex processes like nanoparticle generation, he safely and efficiently conducted the soap-making process using basic ingredients. As a finalist, he reached out to experts at the University of Virginia and Georgetown for additional support.
Acknowledging the pivotal role of his mentor, Deborah Isabelle, Bekele stated, “The number one person [who helped me] would be Deborah Isabelle, my 3M designated mentor. She helped organise and structure my thoughts, and she has so much experience in the field of R&D. I definitely couldn’t have done this all by myself.”
Looking ahead, Bekele revealed his vision to transform the project into a nonprofit organisation within five years, aiming to provide equitable and accessible skin cancer treatment to a broader audience. He asserted, “Because honestly, at the end of the day, that is what this project is all about.”
While skin cancers are uncommon in Africans and dark-skinned individuals, they pose a significant challenge when diagnosed, often resulting in poor prognosis. In the US, where skin cancer affects around 100,000 people annually and claims approximately 8,000 lives, Bekele’s innovative soap could potentially offer a promising solution in the fight against this prevalent disease.
A few weeks ago, we reported about another Ethiopian Gebisa Ejeta, who had been awarded the National Medal of Science, which is the highest honour bestowed upon scientists in the United States.
Mimi Mefo Info