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A passion for light drove Professor Tebello Nyokong of Rhodes University into her photodynamic therapy research, harnessing light for cancer therapy and environmental clean-up using special dyes. And with the groundbreaking work she won the Africa-Arab State 2009 L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science.

Yet despite many awards over the years and two further doctorates from UNISA and Walter Sisulu University this year, Tebello remains true to her philosophy of humility. Laughing about herself as a crazy scientist, she says her love for scientific challenges hasn’t waned over the years.

Photodymanic Therapy (PDT) is intended as an alternative to chemo therapy. It’s claimed that the therapy doesn’t cause nausea or destroy hair or healthy cells. Specially developed dyes are used to direct light into onto cancer cells. The dye in injected into the bloodstream or applied to the skin and PDT is combined with quantum dots – nano-particles that absorb and then re-emit light – enabling scientists to target and kill the cancer cells with red light. These dyes have been developed overseas and Tebello says more research was needed to establish which dyes were most efficient in the harsh African sunlight.

Source: Sunday Times

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