The Power of Personal Experience

Falling Walls Lab. Berlin, 08.11.2017. Copyright: Florian Gaertner/ Falling Walls

Falling Walls Lab. Berlin, 08.11.2017. Copyright: Florian Gaertner/ Falling Walls

Science is the pursuit of objective truth, yet for many researchers, their motivation is sourced from intensely personal experiences.

Makiko Hayashi, from Tohoku University in Japan, lost a grandparent to cancer, an episode that involved several years of mixed treatment results and caused untold pain to her family. Vowing to help others avoid such an experience, Hayashi trained to become a cancer researcher, and her team recently made a promising discovery. Malignant cancers have NRF2 molecules that can protect them from drugs or radiation, the treatment options that beat back many cancers. Hayashi looked through thousands of compounds, ultimately finding one – halofuginone – that swept away NRF2 and brought malignant tumors back into the realm of treatability.

On the other side of the world, Samuel Sevi has also been trying to solve a grandparent’s difficulty. “In my village in Cote D’Ivoire, I noticed a problem,” he says. Sevi’s grandfather, like many in the village, is a rubber farmer, tapping the local hevea trees to collect the raw material for latex. Over the years, more frequent big rainstorms washed down the trees and flushed away the rubber, taking the farmers’ profits with it. Sevi saw a cheap and easy solution – umbrellas for the taps. Farmers attach a semi-circular shield that projects outward from the tree and keeps the rubber-collecting bucket dry. “With the will to help my grandfather, that is why I invented this,” Sevi explains, and already the devices are proving useful in places like Liberia, Singapore, India, and Brazil. Each one costs 0.68 USD, and produce a 18x return over the course of a couple of years.




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