FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A 14-year-old Virginian recently won a national science prize after developing a new kind of treatment for skin cancer patients.
Heman Bekele moved from Ethiopia to Virginia when he was four years old. As a student of W.T. Woodson High School, he researched skin cancer, learning how dendritic cells protect the skin by boosting immune responses.
After months of experimenting with different combinations of salicylic acid, glycolic acid and tretinoin, Bekele developed Skin Cancer Treating Soap (SCTS).
“It was so difficult to get a bar of soap that didn’t just melt immediately,” Bekele said. “Persistence is a very important part of the scientific process.”
Bekele continued to work on the product as part of the 3M Young Scientist Challenge where he received assistance from a 3M assigned mentor.
His goal throughout the process was to create a form of treatment that would be affordable for disproportionately affected skin cancer patients in developing countries.
“Skin cancer is mostly found [in] people who live within developing countries,” Bekele said. “But the average price for an operation is $40,000. I was devastated by the idea of people having to choose between treatment and putting food on the table for their families. There are so many preventable deaths.”
According to Bekele, his SCTS can be made for $0.50 a bar, or $8.50 for a pack of 20 bars. He says using the soap every few days can help treat certain forms of skin cancer.
Earlier this month, Bekele secured his victory at the challenge’s events in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was awarded $25,000 along with his title which he says he plans to use on securing a patent and attending college.