By Sharon Atieno

Recognizing the need to come up with better treatment methods to help deal with the cancer scourge in Kenya, young scientists at the National science and technology exhibition displayed alternative treatment methods that can be incorporated for the treatment of different cancer types.

It is estimated that cancer kills around 33 000 Kenyans yearly despite undertaking radio therapy and chemotherapy treatment.

Taking part in the Young Scientists Kenya (YSK) competition, Ismaeel Parpia and Ahmad Parpia, students from the Shree Cutchi Leva Patel Samaj School demonstrated their project on treatment of skin cancer using herpes simplex virus.

Ahmad explaining their experiment

“Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are extremely toxic to the body and have adverse side effects to the body such as anaemia, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and they eventually destroy the immune system and if it continues there can be loss of life,” says Ismaeel.

“This problem can be solved through the introduction of herpes simplex virus which is an oncolytic virus to treat the tumours and has limited side effects. This is a new strategy against cancer which has the ability of replicating selectively linked cancer cells without harming the normal body cells.”

Explaining the findings of the experiment, Ahmad notes that increasing the dose of herpes simplex virus reduces the size of the tumour and actually acts on the tumour, killing it.

Having carried out the experiment at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) laboratories, they were able to conclude that the treatment is effective if carried out during the early stages though there is need for more research on its effectiveness in late cancer stages.

In another corner of the exhibition room, Ubah Abdikarim and Najma Ali from Yathrib Girls Secondary School were demonstrating how strontium can be used in the cure of prostate cancer as well as bone-related diseases such as osteoporosis and arthritis.

Ubah and  Najma posing for a photo at the exhibition

“It was difficult for us to prepare the treatment sample on our own because we lacked strontium as it is not readily available in the country,” Abdikarim explains. “Though it is cheap to import strontium, its radioactive nature is a problem.”

However, she adds that from their research, the radioactive waves of the strontium is what kills the cancerous cells.

The advantage of this treatment is that it allows the patient to be an outpatient, coming for injection and going back home. Side effects of the treatment include radioactivity which lowers as the days go by; increased pain in the cancer areas of the bone for some days; and slight drop in number of red blood cells after a few weeks.

Another cancer experiment at the YSK involved making a concoction from pomelo fruit which destroys development of harmful bacteria in our bodies as well as abnormal cells.

The project by Mwanadie Adnan and Kowthar Aftin, students at Mau Mau Girls Secondary School shows that pomelo powder which is obtained from grating the cover of the fruit and sun drying it, has the ability to purify the body in cases of contamination.

“We recommend that the pharmaceutical industry makes use of this fruit in the manufacture of counter cancer drugs since it does not have any side effects like chemotherapy which destroys the normal cells in the body,” suggests Aftin.

“It can be used in the manufacture of the tablets but also the fruit can be consumed on its own,” she adds.

Stacy Ayiti, a student from Sengani Girls High School, was also able to demonstrate her experiment on the use of fig leaves polyphenols as a cancer inhibitor.

The projects exhibited during the national science week are a clear indication of the potential of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills in solving day to day issues ailing the country. Being that STEM has been the backbone of development for most developed nations, enabling a STEM culture through such spaces, ensures the country’s growth and development moving forward.