Tebello Nyokong, a South-African scientist, has won the Africa-Arab State 2009 L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science for her pioneering research into photodynamic therapy specifically suited to the African environment. She is a Professorof Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology at Rhodes University, and is the third South African Scientist to receive this award.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses specially developed dyes to direct deadly light onto cancer cells, and is being researched all over the world as an alternative to chemotherapy. The dye is injected into the bloodstream or applied directly to the skin. PDT is combined with nanoparticles that absorb and re-emit light in order to target the cancer cells with red light, and kill them with an efficient treatment.
These dyes have been developed primarily outside Africa and Tebello Nyokong believes that more research is needed to establish which dyes are most efficient in the harsh African sunlight. “Any amount of the drug on healthy tissue (such as the skin) is affected by even the smallest amount of sunlight, even indoors,” said Tebello Nyokong. Her research on new dyes for photodynamic therapy specifically suited to the African environment is still at an early stage. She hopes, however, to see products available in the market in the years to come.
Another aspect of Tebello Nyokong’s research is pollution control. One of the methods for the purification of water is photochemical destruction of pollutants (such as chlorinate phenols and other pesticides) using ultraviolet light. However, photodegradation products for some of the pollutants are more toxic than the parent compounds. Photosensitized oxidation has been suggested as a possible solution to this problem. Professor Nyokong is investigating the use of phthalocyanines as photosensitizers, including biomimetic and electrochemical degradation of the pollutants, in the transformation of chlorinated phenols and other pollutants into less harmful products.
Professor Tebello Nyokong rightly and beautifully proves that development issues are not reserved to male inventors because women do need to be part of the industrial development process in Africa.
Source 1: Rhodes University
Source 2: Rhodes University