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CLASS OF 2017: Usisipho Feleni

Award-winning UWC scientist Usisipho Feleni receives PhD degree

“Regular mammogram check-ups and other forms of breast examination should be part of every young woman’s lifestyle, particularly those who a have family history of breast cancer.”

That advice comes from Usisipho Feleni, winner of both a 2016 L’Oreal Women in Science and 2016 DST Women in Science Doctoral Fellowship Award - and recent PhD Graduate from the University of the Western Cape.

Usisipho, who hails from Cofimvaba in the rural outskirts of Transkei, graduated in UWC’s Spring Graduation Ceremony on Tuesday, 29 August 2017.

Through her work on her thesis, Smart bio-electrochemical sensing and signaling of inter-individual responses to breast cancer treatment, Usisipho developed a smart electro-phenotype tamoxifen biosensor (b-Cancerphenosens) for determining a patient’s complete response profile to tamoxifen - the most prescribed breast cancer treatment drug.

“My research project calls for a better understanding of the variations in patients’ drug dose-response profile and the personalisation of treatment,” she explains.

Alongside HIV and tuberculosis, breast cancer is regarded as a priority disease in South Africa’s health management system. Usisipho’s research project addresses a serious health need in South Africa: the development of a cost-effective diagnostic system for the early detection of diseases, thereby enabling timely intervention and effective management.

“The sensing protocol will be suitable for use at a doctor’s office to provide a patient’s full response pattern for tamoxifen, and, therefore, assist the doctor to determine an appropriate dose,” she notes.

Usisipho was drawn to this field of research through more than just intellectual curiosity: a decade ago, she lost a relative who meant a great deal to her, and who was HIV positive and on ARV medication. She became determined to understand what could have caused her loved one’s untimely death.

Her research projects at both Honours and MSc level into how ARVs are broken down in the body led her to develop a better understanding of drug toxicity, how different drugs respond differently to different individuals, and how different patients each have their unique drug dose-response profile.

Usisipho graduated with distinction in her BSc Honors and MSc in Nanoscience, and was consistently ranked as one of UWC’s top students in Physical Chemistry during her undergraduate years. She has also received training at the University of Missouri Medical School in the US, and she has over 10 publications.

If you would like to interview Feleni her contact details are and 071 954 9973.

For more enquiries , contact Aidan van den Heever on 021 959 9566 or via email at

Spring Grad PICTURES

Morning and Afternoon Ceremonies