African Student Developing New Breast Cancer Treatment

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SEATTLE — This July, Sandra Musujusu, a student at the African University of Science and Technology (AUST), presented groundbreaking new research. Musujusu is currently constructing a new breast cancer treatment method. The young scientist introduced her research plan to the World Bank at an exhibition for the 10 African Centers of Excellence. Her medical ambitions highlight the importance of quality STEM education programs in Africa.

Breast Cancer in the Developing World
Globally, breast cancer is the most common cancer to affect women. Diseases of the developing world are often visualized as mosquito-borne viruses facilitated by poor living conditions, but cancer impacts the developing world as well. Over half of all breast cancer fatalities occur in the developing world.

While breast cancer survival rates are as high as 80 percent in developed countries like the U.S. and Japan, survival rates are two times lower in low-income nations. Elevated breast cancer mortality rates in the developing world are most likely related to a lack of early detection programs. When women do not recognize the meaning or severity of their symptoms, they are more likely to let their cancer go untreated. Education about identifying the signs of breast cancer is crucial.

Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Musujusu’s new treatment is specifically designed to target and combat triple negative breast cancer. Triple negative breast cancer is a particularly aggressive subtype of breast cancer that is most common in women of African descent.

Most types of breast cancer are categorized and treated based on the presence of estrogen, progesterone and human epidermal growth factor receptors. Triple negative breast cancer lacks all three types of receptors, making chemotherapy the only treatment option currently available to patients with this type of cancer. The new breast cancer treatment being developed by Musujusu will utilize biodegradable polymers and provide an alternative to chemotherapy.

African University of Science and Technology
The African University of Science and Technology, where Musujusu conducts her research, is one of 10 “African Centers of Excellence” funded by the World Bank. The creation of the centers of excellence in 2007 was inspired by Nelson Mandela’s goal of creating institutions that further Africa’s strength in science and technology.

AUST is a Pan-African institution, meaning that, though it is located in Abuja, Nigeria, it hosts master’s and doctoral students from all over Africa (Musujusu is from Sierra Leone). The university offers degrees in five subject areas: computer science, materials science and engineering, petroleum engineering, pure and applied mathematics and theoretical and applied physics. Students are provided with resources to conduct applied research to solve various types of problems throughout Africa.

Finding a new breast cancer treatment is not the only innovative research being done at AUST. Ebenezer Annan, a PhD student at AUST, is creating ceramic filters that can produce safe drinking water. Other students are working on engineering bamboo bicycles and teaching computer programming to students at secondary schools.

The accomplishments of AUST students are a testament to the value of STEM education in Africa. Providing African students with adequate knowledge and resources allows them the opportunity to solve problems and better the situation of all African nations.

Mary Efird

Photo: Flickr

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Mary Efird

Mary lives in Columbia, South Carolina. She graduated from the Honors College at the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences and a minor in Anthropology. Mary is particularly interested in scientific journalism. Mary spent the summer after her sophomore year of college doing medical volunteer work in impoverished regions of Guatemala.

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