14 Year Old Scientist’s Quest to Revolutionize Cancer Treatment Wins Prestigious Award


Heman Bekele, a 14-year-old from Fairfax, Virginia, is not your typical high school student. Instead of indulging in video games and smartphone distractions, he spent his free time conducting groundbreaking experiments and making calls to professors. Heman’s extraordinary ambition revolves around creating an affordable soap that could potentially revolutionize skin cancer treatment.

His remarkable journey reached a significant milestone when he claimed the grand prize in the 3M Young Scientist’s Challenge. This competition encourages young minds to devise innovative solutions to everyday problems, and Heman’s vision stood out as a game-changer.

Inspired by a Childhood in Ethiopia:

Heman’s inspiration for his groundbreaking soap emerged from his early years in Ethiopia before relocating to the United States at the age of four. His empathy for those toiling under the scorching sun led him to contemplate the issue of skin cancer, a significant concern worldwide. He realized that skin cancer, while treatable, came with an exorbitant price tag, making it inaccessible to many.

This realization ignited his passion to create an affordable solution. Heman embarked on a journey of experiments, driven by the desire to make a difference.

The Journey from Kitchen to Laboratory:

Much of Heman’s research and development started in his family’s kitchen and basement. He wasn’t conducting complex nanoparticle experiments; he was primarily working through the soap-making process known as saponification. Armed with emulsifiers, bases, and chemicals, he formulated his soap safely and efficiently from home.

However, as he advanced as a competition finalist, Heman realized the need for external assistance. He reached out to experts at the University of Virginia and Georgetown. Foremost among those who guided him was his 3M designated mentor, Deborah Isabelle, who provided structure and invaluable expertise.

The Marvel of “MTS” – Melanoma Treating Soap:

Heman’s award-winning creation, “MTS,” or Melanoma Treating Soap, is a compound-based bar of soap infused with cancer-fighting agents, primarily Imidazoquinoline. This potent drug, also used in antifungals and acne treatments, showed promise in the treatment of skin cancer. The soap’s unique formula, using lipid-based nanoparticles to deliver the drug effectively, presents a practical solution for cancer patients.

Heman described the soap as having a slightly bumpy texture, which doubles as an exfoliant. It exudes a medicinal scent, a reminder of its powerful purpose. Importantly, the soap’s formulation ensures that the medicinal components remain on the skin even after washing, enhancing its effectiveness.

Scientific Testing and Future Plans:

Heman primarily utilized digital molecular testing for efficiency evaluation, but human testing requires FDA certification, which he aims to secure. His comprehensive 5-year plan includes acquiring FDA approval, conducting human trials, and ultimately establishing a nonprofit organization by 2028. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide equitable and accessible skin cancer treatment to those who need it most.

The Joy of Victory and a Bright Future:

Heman’s victory in the 3M Young Scientist’s Challenge left him exhilarated and deeply motivated. As one of the top 10 finalists, he cherished the camaraderie with fellow young scientists. Winning the grand prize was a testament to his dedication and innovation, a moment he will forever treasure.

Investing in the Future:

With the $25,000 prize money, Heman is committed to furthering his research in STEM fields, ensuring he has the resources required to drive his vision forward. Additionally, he plans to allocate part of the funds to his college education.

Heman Bekele’s journey is a testament to youthful determination, innovation, and the pursuit of noble goals. He serves as an inspiration not only to his peers but to the entire scientific community, showing that age is no barrier to making a significant impact.

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