A Virginia teen’s “remarkable effort” in the fight against cancer earned him a major prize for his prototype soap.
As one of ten competitors whose entries into the 3M Young Scientist Challenge garnered them the opportunity to travel to the conglomerate’s global headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota, 14-year-old Heman Bekele’s concept to fight skin cancer earned him the top prize of $25,000.
For the student who grew up in Ethiopia and is now attending W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, the honor of “America’s Top Young Scientist” was still at a level of “disbelief” from his efforts.
“It’s so crazy, it’s so surreal to even think about it right now!” he told WTTG.
“The most difficult part was probably creating the first prototype,” Bekele went on to add before emphasizing the best part was hitting submit on his work.
Congratulations to the 2023 3M #YoungScientist Challenge winner, Heman Bekele! He developed Melanoma Treating Soap, a compound-based bar of soap designed to treat skin cancer. We’re proud of all the finalists who are bringing science to life through curiosity and innovation! pic.twitter.com/4rOvzBkJli
— 3M (@3M) October 11, 2023
As part of the press release from his school district, the student explained, “Skin cancer is mostly found on people who live within developing countries.”
“But the average price for an operation is $40,000,” the young scientist lamented. “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,” added Bekele.
That breakdown had also been included in his submission to 3M where he detailed that over 10,000 deaths happened annually from those living with cancer that would be otherwise treatable if only they could afford it.
In developing his prototype solution for skin cancer-treating soap, Bekele explained that he combined a series of keratolytic agents meant to slowly reactivate dendritic cells, which are weakened after coming in contact with cancer cells reducing their ability to protect the skin.
His product only cost $0.50 per bar.
Criteria for determining the winner was based on “ingenuity and innovative thinking, application of STEM principles, demonstration of passion and research, presentation skills and ability to inspire others,” 3M outlined in their release.
As part of the program, the teen was partnered with a mentor, Product Engineering Specialist Deborah Isabelle, who commented to Fox News Digital via email, “It was such a privilege to support Heman throughout this process.”
“He saw a need and used science to solve it. While I asked questions, made a few suggestions and connected Heman to some additional experts to help make his project successful, ultimately the idea, the drive and the prototype were all Heman’s inspiration and hard work.”
Though a promising innovation, New Jersey’s Atlantic Health System Cancer Care medical director Eric D. Whitman expressed to Fox News Digital, “While [this is] a remarkable effort from such a bright and motivated young man, further clinical testing is required to find out if the soap ‘reactivates’ dendritic cells, or even treats or prevents cancer.”
Whitman added, “I hope this young scientist continues his work and is given a chance to collaborate with clinical centers to test his product and see if it fulfills its potential promise.”
Bekele’s parents, Muluemebet G. Ejigu and Wondwossen B. Gemechu released their own statement about their son’s achievement and said, “Heman has always been passionate about challenging himself beyond school.”
“He is extremely self-driven, energetic and motivated beyond his age. We, as parents, believed in him, created the environment and space, encouraged him to follow his dreams and to try things that seem to be impossible,” they continued. “More importantly, we promoted giving back and making an impact in the society.”
Along with contributing to his funds for college, Bekele expressed his hope of using the award to start a non-profit to expand the availability of cancer treatment to as many people as possible.
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