Curing cancer, one bar of soap at a time.

Curing cancer, one bar of soap at a time.

November 28, 2023 by The Foundation For A Better Life

14-year-old Heman Bekele awarded the 3M Young Scientist Award for developing a soap that activates skin cells to fight cancer.

remembers watching people working in the hot sun all day. In middle school he began to wonder if they knew of the risks associated with sun exposure. Heman has a scientist’s curiosity, that insatiable desire to know how the physical world works and how to improve the lives of its inhabitants. And sometimes the simplest answers solve the most complex problems. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. Untreated, skin cancer can affect not only surface areas, but also spread to the lymph nodes and blood. The key to preventing complications and even death due to skin cancer is early treatment. That’s where Heman’s remarkably simple solution comes in. A daily soap that uses a compound to help revive dendritic cells killed by cancer. Once revived, the healthy cells fight against the cancer cells. Deborah Isabelle, product engineering specialist from 3M and Heman’s mentor describes the product: “The Skin Cancer Treating Soap reminds the body how to defend itself.”

It is often the simple solutions that are the most effective because they are the ones that people will use. Soap is a daily ritual for most people, and for those at risk in sun-drenched areas, using soap is an easy and affordable solution. “I wanted to make my idea something that not only was great in terms of science but also could be accessible to as many people as possible,” Heman says. “No matter where you live, I think you know and trust soap in comparison to other medicinal products.”

The process of making soap with the right compounds to hold it together and still be effective took months of work creating prototypes. To speed up the process, Heman used computer modeling to test and refine combinations of compounds. In the journey of pursuing a passion, multiple disciplines are needed: a little knowledge of chemistry, marketing, software and computer skills, and even social science to see how people will respond to a new product. Heman started with a goal in mind and learned the skills along the way. When we begin our education with a purpose, we learn much faster. “There’s still a lot to do,” Heman says. He has plans to start a nonprofit to distribute the soap to places in the world that need it most. That means learning about distribution and supply chains as well as international relations. That’s a tall order for a 14-year-old. But to Heman, that’s the advantage of starting young. He has dreams of building something life changing. His vision is to turn the cancer-fighting soap into a “symbol of hope, accessibility, and a world where skin cancer treatment is within reach for all.”

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