In a remarkable display of innovation and scientific prowess, 14-year-old Heman Bekele from Annandale, Virginia, has captured the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” by inventing a groundbreaking soap designed to treat skin cancer. This prestigious accolade, awarded by 3M and Discovery Education, recognizes Heman’s exceptional contribution to the field of science at such a young age. His invention, a compound-based soap bar, not only revolutionizes the approach to skin cancer treatment but also offers a cost-effective solution. In this article, we will explore Heman’s journey, the science behind his invention, and the potential impact of his groundbreaking soap on the global health landscape.
The Path to Success
Heman’s path to success began when he entered the highly esteemed 3M Young Scientist Challenge. This annual competition invites students in grades five to eight to submit innovative ideas that have the potential to transform the world. Heman’s submission stood out among the rest, showcasing his passion for biology and technology. In his award submission, Heman expressed his belief in the power of young minds to make a positive impact on the world. This challenge provided him with the perfect platform to showcase his ideas and demonstrate his exceptional scientific aptitude.
After months of hard work and dedication, Heman emerged as the winner of the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge. His soap invention impressed the judges with its potential to revolutionize skin cancer treatment. The grand prize, a cash award of $25,000 and an exclusive mentorship with a 3M scientist, was awarded to Heman at a ceremony held at 3M’s headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Science Behind the Soap
Heman’s soap, aptly named M.T.S. (Melanoma Treatment Soap), is a result of meticulous research and experimentation. Inspired by the high recovery rate of melanoma in sub-Saharan Africa compared to the United States, Heman set out to develop an affordable solution to enhance skin cancer outcomes. By combining simple compounds in the soap, Heman was able to keep production costs low while stimulating the activity of dendritic cells, which play a crucial role in protecting skin cells.
The soap contains a blend of salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and tretinoin, all of which are keratolytic agents that reactivate dendritic cells. These cells are professional antigen-presenting cells that bolster immune responses against invasive pathogens while maintaining tolerance to self and harmless environmental antigens. By reactivating dendritic cells, Heman’s soap aims to enhance the body’s natural defense against skin cancer and promote better treatment outcomes.
The Potential Impact
Skin cancer has been on the rise in the United States, with the National Cancer Institute reporting an increase in new cases from 14.6 per 100,000 people in 1992 to 24.1 in 2019. The National Institute of Health estimates that there will be 1.5 million new cases of skin cancer in 2020. Heman’s invention comes at a crucial time, offering a potential low-cost solution to a growing global health concern.
The affordability of Heman’s soap is a key factor in its potential impact. With an estimated production cost of only 50 cents per bar, this innovative treatment could be accessible to a wider population, including those in underserved communities. Heman envisions refining his invention further and establishing a non-profit organization to distribute the soap to those in need over the next five years. This noble endeavor demonstrates his commitment to making a positive difference in the world.
Acknowledging Other Remarkable Innovations
Alongside Heman’s victory, the 3M Young Scientist Challenge recognized other exceptional young minds and their groundbreaking inventions. Shripriya Kalbhavi, a ninth-grader from San Jose, California, secured second place for her invention of a cost-effective patch that facilitates self-automated medication delivery, eliminating the need for pills or needles. Sarah Wang, a seventh-grader from Andover, Massachusetts, clinched third place with her innovative glove capable of detecting specific epileptic seizures through common hand movements. These remarkable young scientists were awarded cash prizes and the opportunity to further develop their inventions, showcasing the immense potential of young minds in shaping the future of science and technology.
Heman Bekele’s invention of a soap that treats skin cancer has not only earned him the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” but has also brought hope to millions affected by this devastating disease. His innovative soap, with its low production cost and potential for widespread distribution, has the power to transform skin cancer treatment and improve outcomes for patients. Heman’s success serves as a testament to the potential of young minds to make transformative contributions to society. As we eagerly await further developments in his groundbreaking invention, we are reminded of the immense impact that passion, dedication, and scientific curiosity can have on the world.