City woman wins award for cancer research
UNIVERSITY of the Western Cape (UWC) researcher Usisipho Feleni scooped her second prestigious award this year when she was named winner of the L’Oréal-Unesco For Women In Science Fellowship.
In August Feleni, from UWC’s chemistry department, also won a science award at the Science and Technology Department’s SA Women in Science Awards (WISA). She received the second award in Johannesburg last week.
Feleni, from the Eastern Cape, is doing groundbreaking work in the search to find more effective ways to provide the best medication dosages for breast cancer patients.She is working on appropriate doses of Tamoxifen, the most prescribed breast cancer drug in cancer therapy.
Feleni obtained her BSc Honours in chemistry in 2012, and her MSc Nanoscience degree (with a specialisation in nanochemistry) in 2014, both from UWC.
She is enrolled for a PhD chemistry degree there, specialising in nanobiosensors.
Feleni’s research was acknowledged for its valuable contribution to society when she won a Women in Science Award.
She was drawn to her career in science after the death in 2006 of a relative who had HIV and was taking antiretrovirals (ARVs).
Her subsequent research projects at both Honours and Master’s level investigated how ARVs are broken down in the body.
Feleni said this gave her a better understanding of drug toxicity, how different drugs respond differently to different individuals, and how different patients each have their unique drug dose-response profile.
Today, she says she is excited to know that her research will help determine the best dosage of Tamoxifen for patients with breast cancer.
“Since working on my BSc Honours degree project from 2011, I have been fascinated with inter-individual variability in drug metabolism, particularly for antiretroviral, anti-tuberculosis and breast cancer drugs, and how this is related to patients’ responses to treatment, drug toxicity and drug resistance.
“My research project addresses a serious health need in South Africa: the development of a cost-effective diagnostic system for the early detection of diseases, thereby enabling timely intervention and effective management,” she explains.
Alongside HIV and tuberculosis, breast cancer is regarded as a priority disease in South Africa’s health management system.
Feleni’s supervisor, Professor Emmanuel Iwuoh, senior professor in Nanoelectrochemistry and Sensor Technology Research in UWC’s chemistry department, says she follows a line of very successful Sensor Lab woman PhD researchers who have been winning local and international awards due to the competitiveness of their research in addressing some of the great national and global challenges.
“Prominent among these awards is the L’Oreal-Unesco Fellowship for Women Scientists from Sub-Saharan Africa, which SensorLab researchers won in 2012, 2013 and 2014,” he says.
Feleni’s PhD project, “Smart bioelectrochemical phenotype sensors for signalling interindividual responses to breast cancer treatment”, involves the development of a diagnostic device for the determination of a patient’s drug metabolism classification for Tamoxifen.
This determination is necessary for appropriate prescription that will prevent drug toxicity due to overdose, or drug resistance due to repeated under-dosage.
Feleni also received training at the University of Missouri Medical School in the US, and the Centre for Biosensors and Bioelectronics at Linköping University in Sweden.