Rhodes University assists grade 11 pupil to realise research dream

 Rhodes University research team: Dr Lance Ho, Professor Janice Limson, Professor Adrienne Edkins and Dr Shane Flanagan, with Konwaba Putsu (seated)
Rhodes University research team: Dr Lance Ho, Professor Janice Limson, Professor Adrienne Edkins and Dr Shane Flanagan, with Konwaba Putsu (seated)

Rhodes University academics are assisting grade 11 Stutterheim High School pupil, Konwaba Putsu, to realise his dream. The 17-year-old Konwaba has aspirations of discovering what can be done to stop cancer from spreading in the body.With this vision in mind, Konwaba approached Rhodes University Biotechnology Innovation Centre (RUBIC) Director, Professor Janice Limson, for assistance. She is also the Department of Science and Innovation / National Research Foundation South African Research Chair in Biotechnology Innovation and Engagement.

Prof Limson organised for Konwaba to visit the University during his school holiday and last week he arrived at the institution in disbelief. “Earlier this year, I presented my idea at the Eskom Science Expo held in Makhanda. It was turned down because they said it was only a theory with no evidence. But that did not deter me because in March, I met a lady who was impressed with my idea and gave me Professor Limson’s details,” Konwaba explained. Konwaba lost his uncle to cancer in 2008, and that encouraged him to do research on the deadly disease.

Prof Limson said she and her colleagues were so impressed with Konwaba’s initiative that they decided to invite him to Rhodes University to spend a few days in their laboratories. “It has been a pleasure to interact with someone who is so young and has so much purpose. He has worked hands-on in the laboratory during his time here.  Under the guidance of two of our research group’s postdoctoral fellows, Dr Shane Flanagan and Dr Lance Ho, Konwaba was shown cell culture experiments that are routinely used in cancer cell research. Konwaba was also exposed to the research tools we use to develop ways to test for cancer,” she explained.

During his visit, Konwaba also had the opportunity to engage with Professor Adrienne Edkins, cancer biology researcher and Director of the Biomedical Biotechnology Research Unit (BioBRU).  Professor Edkins said: “It is wonderful to meet a young individual with so much potential and motivation, and fantastic that cancer research in Africa is gaining more prominence and interest from those who will be our future research leaders.”

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa, about 115 000 South Africans are diagnosed with cancer each year and cancer causes more deaths in South Africa than any other illness.

Prof Limson said one of the goals of RUBIC is to engage the public early in the research process, as part of science engagement. “Konwaba is demonstrating that the public can have a voice in scientific research and here at Rhodes University, scientists are listening,” she concluded.

Rhodes University academics will continue monitoring Konwaba’s progress and advise him where they can.