Valentine Saasa (27), a PhD candidate at the Council
for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR),
not only wants to make an impact on society but wants to help others do so too. Born and raised in rural Botlokwa in Limpopo,
Saasa attended Letheba High School before obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in 2011 and a Biochemistry Honours degree in 2012,
both from the University of Limpopo where she specialised in medicinal plant extraction for diabetes mellitus management.
She obtained her Biochemistry Master’s degree (cum laude) in 2016 from the University of Johannesburg, with CSIR as a sponsor.
Her thesis focused on developing a technology to monitor blood glucose without using needles.
“We were using human breath, instead of blood tests, to measure the amount of acetone a human emits,”
said Saasa, who explained that diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disease caused by insulin defi ciency.
“Insulin is a hormone that converts the food we eat, such as starch, to usable energy.
When insulin is not at work, as in the case of diabetes, the body produces ketone bodies such as acetone.
“Acetone is a molecule produced by diabetic patients when they have high blood glucose to compensate the energy-demanding organs and tissues, such as the brain.
That’s why we used human breath to detect acetone and correlate it with blood glucose,” she said.
The project went well. “The results showed an above 70 percent correlation between breath acetone and blood acetone,”
she confi rmed. Saasa is now enrolled for a Biochemistry PhD at the University of Pretoria.
Her PhD project still aims to develop a non-invasive way of monitoring diabetes mellitus, but this time using tungsten (WO3) as a potential acetone sensor.
The project falls under a bigger one – Breath Analyser Nanotechnologies for Disease Detection which is led by Dr Bonex Mwakikunga.
“I wish to replace the current diagnosis and monitoring of blood glucose for diabetic patients which involves the use of blood tests that can accidentally cause other infectious diseases,
especially in South Africa where HIV is a prevalent blood-borne illness.
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