City woman wins award for cancer re­search

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - WEEK­END AR­GUS RE­PORTER

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.

Usisipho Fe­leni

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