In a display of both scientific brilliance and compassion, Heman Bekele, a freshman at W.T. Woodson High School in the Fairfax County Public Schools system, has gained national acclaim for his groundbreaking invention. His creation, a soap specifically designed to combat skin cancer, has earned him the prestigious title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” and a $25,000 award through the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. This innovative product has the potential to completely revolutionize the approach to preventing and treating skin cancer.
The inspiration behind Heman’s invention stems from his own personal experiences. Having grown up in Ethiopia, he witnessed firsthand the harsh conditions people endure under the scorching sun, leading him to recognize the urgent issue of skin cancer in developing nations. Heman acknowledged that “skin cancer is predominantly found in individuals living in developing countries,” and was disheartened by the exorbitant cost of treatment, often exceeding $40,000. Fueled by his empathy for those faced with the devastating choice between their health and their family’s livelihood, Heman was determined to make a difference and prevent unnecessary deaths.
Heman embarked on an extensive scientific journey driven by his passion for discovery. He focused his research on dendritic cells, crucial components of the immune system responsible for attacking cancer cells. Through countless experiments, he endeavored to create a soap that effectively stimulates these cells. Ingredients such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and tretinoin were carefully tested to achieve the desired results.
One of the major hurdles Heman faced during the development process was ensuring the soap’s structural integrity. However, he ingeniously overcame this obstacle by incorporating a mixture of moisturizer, coconut oil, and organic shea butter. Not only did this guarantee the soap’s durability, but it also bestowed additional skin-enhancing properties.
Dr. Eric D. Whitman, the medical director of Atlantic Health System Cancer Care in New Jersey, lauded Heman’s invention as an “intriguing method of creating a topical immune-activating agent that could aid in the treatment or prevention of skin cancer.” While commending Heman’s remarkable efforts, Dr. Whitman stressed the need for further clinical testing to assess the soap’s effectiveness in reactivating dendritic cells and treating or preventing cancer. He expressed hope that Heman’s work would continue and potentially lead to collaboration with clinical centers for comprehensive testing.
Heman’s journey was not a solitary one; he received support from various sources. His mentor, Deborah Isabelle, a product engineering specialist at 3M in Minnesota, provided invaluable guidance throughout the development process. Additionally, Heman received assistance from researchers at the University of Virginia, his FCPS teachers, and his parents, who nurtured his early enthusiasm for STEM subjects.
Heman’s parents, Muluemebet G. Ejigu and Wondwossen B. Gemechu, have played an integral role in fostering his passion for science. They describe him as a self-driven and motivated individual who consistently seeks to go beyond the boundaries of traditional education. Their unwavering support and belief in Heman’s abilities have been fundamental to his journey.
Among ten competitors, Heman emerged as the clear winner at 3M’s Global Headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota. The judging criteria focused on qualities such as ingenuity, innovative thinking, the application of STEM principles, passion, research, presentation skills, and the ability to inspire others.
With the cash prize he rightfully earned, Heman plans to secure a patent for his revolutionary soap and save for college. His ultimate aspiration is to establish a nonprofit organization dedicated to distributing his soap in low-income communities, making a substantial impact on the world.
Heman’s mentor, Deborah Isabelle, perfectly encapsulates the essence of his remarkable achievement, stating, “It’s something we adults would do well to remember.” Heman’s journey serves as an inspiring testament to the power of determination, innovation, and unwavering commitment to making a positive change. His groundbreaking soap has the potential to transform the approach to skin cancer prevention and treatment, reminding us all that the most remarkable solutions often arise from the sheer determination to make a difference.