Virginia Teen Named "America's Top Young Scientist" After Developing Cancer-Fighting Soap

Keep an eye on 14-year-old Heman Bekele.



A teenager from Annandale, Virginia, has been named "America's Top Young Scientist" for developing a bar of soap that could be used to help treat skin cancer.

Heman Bekele, 14, won the 2023 3M Young Scientist Challenge after setting himself apart from the nine other finalists with his compound-based Skin Cancer Treating Soap (SCTS). In addition to the prestigious title, the ninth grader will receive a hefty $25,000 cash prize.

In a two-minute video submission, Bekele pitched his idea for a cancer-fighting soap that costs less than $10 per bar. The soap, he explained, would be made with compounds that could reactivate dendritic cells, the cells that guard human skin, enabling them to fight cancer.

"Curing cancer, one bar of soap at a time,” Bekele said. “I have always been interested in biology and technology, and this challenge gave me the perfect platform to showcase my ideas.”

Bekele told The Washington Post that the soap was inspired by his early childhood in Ethiopia.

“There, I always saw people who were constantly working under the hot sun,” Bekele, who moved to the United States at age 4, told the newspaper. He said that as he started thinking about ideas for the competition, he wondered how many of those people were aware of the risk of sun exposure.

“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,” Bekele told the Post.



His mentor, 3M product engineering specialist Deborah Isabelle, has connected him with other scientists to help him move forward with his plans, which ultimately require FDA approval.

At the 3M global headquarters in Saint Paul, Minnesota, earlier this month, Bekele told the judging panel he hopes to turn the soap into a “symbol of hope, accessibility and a world where skin cancer treatment is within reach for all.”

Over the next five years, he hopes to refine his invention and create a nonprofit organization that will distribute it to communities in need.

Well done, Heman!

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