Rhodes University’s Professor Tebello Nyokong, has won the Africa-Arab State 2009 L’Oréal-Unesco Award for Women in Science for her pioneering research into photodynamic therapy which looks at harnessing light for cancer therapy and environmental clean-up. Nyokong is the third South African Scientist to receive this award, and reaffirms Rhodes’s place as one of the top research institutions in the country. University of Cape Town’s Professor Jennifer Thompson was previously recognised for her work on genetic engineering while Wits University’s Professor Valerie Mizrahi was recognised for her tuberculosis research.
Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology, Nyokong holds the DST/NRF South African Research Chairs and is the Director of the DST-Mintek & Nanotechnology Innovation Centre for Sensors. This is one of three Nanotechnology Innovation Centres in South Africa. Nyokong is also recognised as one of the top three publishing scientists in South Africa. The prestigious L’Oréal-Unesco Award punctuates a distinguished scientific career that has earned Nyokong the 2004 Shoprite/Checkers Woman of the Year award and the Order of Mapungbwe: Bronze in 2005 by former president Thabo Mbeki, among many other accolades. She is also an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa (FRSSA).
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 quantum dots (QD), which are nanoparticles that absorb and then re-emit light, thus enabling scientists to target the cancer cells with red light and allowing for an efficient cancer treatment involving the photosensitization and imaging of these QD to kill the cancer cells.
These dyes have been developed primarily overseas and Nyokong says 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 Nyokong.
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