Rhodes team honoured

STAYING FOCUSED: Professor Tebello Nyokong at Rhodes University Picture: GARY HORLOR
STAYING FOCUSED: Professor Tebello Nyokong at Rhodes University
Picture: GARY HORLOR

Nyokong leads laser research

It may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but a tough-as-nails Rhodes University professor and her research team have been looking at how to use lasers and nanotechnology to fight cancer and help pilots land aircraft safely.

Distinguished professor of medicinal chemistry and nanotechnology Tebello Nyokong – and her team – were recently recognised by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s National Laser Centre (CSIR-NLC) for the role they play in shaping young minds to use technology for the betterment of society.

Nyokong and her team were given certificates for training the most doctoral students in one year and for publishing the most academic articles, at an event hosted at Stellenbosch University last week.

The academic at the helm of Rhodes’ DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre and her research team, which consisted of six PhD and three master’s students, published 63 papers in international academic journals with 58 of them funded by the CSIR-NLC.

Speaking about her projects, Nyokong said the group had researched how to protect pilots from being “lasered” while landing aircraft.

On cancer-fighting treatment, the team researched photodynamic therapy (PDT) which is, according to Nyokong, a different approach to cancer diagnosis and treatment, using a combination of oxygen, laser light and dyes.

PDT uses specially developed dyes to direct deadly light onto cancer cells as an alternative to chemotherapy.

The dye is injected into the bloodstream or applied to the skin.

It is then combined with nanoparticles that absorb and then re-emit light, enabling scientists to target the cancer cells with a red light.

This allows for an efficient cancer treatment involving the photosensitisation and imaging of nanoparticles to kill cancer cells.

Even with continued disruptions on campus due to the #FeesMustFall protests, Nyokong said she and her students remained focused on their work.

Rhodes vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela said Nyokong and her research group had done what was thought to be impossible, with 63 high-impact journal publications in one year.

“For all of us, it is a great honour and advantage to have an African scientist working at this level at our institution,” he said.

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