Women's Month 2023: Zenande Pali

Women’s Month 2023: Zenande Pali

August is Women’s Month, and this year the National Research Foundation (NRF) is celebrating the remarkable contributions that have been made by women researchers for the betterment of humanity. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Ms Zenande Pali is a PhD Candidate and researcher at the DSI-Mandela Nanomedicine Platform at Nelson Mandela University (NMU). Ms Pali has received funding from the NRF for her Honours and PhD studies and she was also an NRF intern.

What impact did the NRF have on your studies/career?

I am a BSc Medical Sciences and BSc Human Physiology (Honours) graduate from Walter Sisulu University (WSU). My Honours degree was funded by the NRF and shortly after completing my Honours degree, I was employed by the NRF as an academic and laboratory intern at NMU in the Physiology Department. As part of the NRF internship, I acquired basic laboratory skills and research techniques in Biomedical Sciences and Nanoscience. I also developed an interest in working with green gold nanoparticles for cancer therapeutics, which led me to pursue an MSc Nanoscience (Biomedical Sciences) degree which was awarded cum laude at NMU in 2022.

I am currently funded by the NRF for a PhD in Health Sciences (Pharmaceutics and Nanomedicine) based at the DSI-Mandela Nanomedicine Platform, NMU.

I truly appreciate the opportunities granted to me by the NRF as it afforded me the opportunity to enhance my skills and knowledge in my career and financially assisted me in furthering my studies.

What has been your study/career journey?

Initially, I was not well-informed about the options in science and research, and I applied for a BSc in Medical Sciences as my second choice at WSU. After being accepted into the programme, I believed that it was something that I was destined for. After my first graduation, I knew that I wanted to further my studies. NRF funding and the NRF internship opened many doors for me and I was able to achieve my goals and make my academic dreams come true.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

My areas of expertise are cancer research, pharmaceutics and nanomedicine. My research focuses on the synthesis and characterization of plant-based gold nanoparticles for breast cancer therapeutics. 

Why is your research/work important?

Breast cancer is currently the world’s most prevalent cancer and although current conventional therapy approaches have been utilised for years, breast cancer is still associated with higher mortality rates and is still the most occurring form of cancer in women.

Current breast cancer therapies are associated with several side-effects, it is expensive, and sometimes fail to successfully treat breast cancer. Therefore, my project aims to synthesise green gold nanoparticles using plants for treating breast cancer cells. Plant-based synthesis of gold nanoparticles is an eco-friendly, cost-effective, and less toxic method that is not harmful to healthy cells and selective to cancerous cells.

There is still a long way to go to truly achieve equity and a sense of belonging for women, be it within the research community or society in general. How do you envision yourself contributing to this space?

I am currently representing women in science and by that, I wish that young girls should see that it is possible to be within this space. My goal is to empower young girls interested in science at an early stage. Teach young women to stand up for themselves and always focus on achieving their dreams. Facing challenges and predicaments is not the end of the world, therefore, it is important to bounce back and to always be attached to your aspirations and future endeavours. We need to change the narrative of women taking the backseat in society and the research community.

What advice do you have for girls who are interested in STEM-related careers?

Science and research require one to stay focused, dedicated and understand the aim of what one is trying to achieve. Therefore, you should allow yourself to acquire all the necessary knowledge and skills. You should be very inquisitive and do research about your field of interest. You must always be confident and honest with your work and allow yourself to make mistakes because it is through the mistakes that you get to learn. Science requires you to be patient as it sometimes takes time to get the desired results. Face every challenge/pressure, understand it and embrace it so you may grow in your career. Always ask for help when you need it. Above all, make sure that you have a heart for science.

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