“It looks like I’m special, but I’m not. I’m no different from anybody else,” Hadiyah-Nicole Green, PhD said. “When opportunity found me, I was prepared.”
Dr. Green may be humble about her career achievements as one of only 100 Black female physicists that are currently working in America today, but there’s no secret that her work is breaking the glass ceiling and setting herself apart in from her colleagues in the STEM fields. According to AL.com, Dr. Green just won a $1.1 million grant to advance her research on developing a new, improved method for cancer treatment.
“I was completely overwhelmed with joy, with thanksgiving, humbled at the opportunity that a group of my peers thought that my work was worthy for such a grant,” she said. “This is a huge door opening. It outlines a path to take this treatment to clinical trial.”
The grant is provided by the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Research Scientist Training Program that is hosted by the US Dept. of Veteran Affairs. The award is specifically designed to offer VA research opportunities for minority scientists.
Dr. Green is personally invested in her work, as both her aunt and uncle who raised her had suffered from cancer.
“[My aunt] refused the treatment because she didn’t want to experience the side effects. It was heartbreaking, but I could appreciate she wanted to die on her own terms.”
First, Dr. Green had taken off time from school to care for her relatives while they were undergoing chemo and radiation treatments. Eventually, she got a Bachelor’s in physics and a full scholarship at the both Alabama A&M University and at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where she earned her master’s and PhD. While at the University of Alabama, Dr. Green developed her ideas on aiding cancer patients with lasers that would avoid the side effects of chemo and radiation. Her treatment method is specifically designed for patients who can’t take more traditional, generic drugs; so far it has only been tested in mice.
Dr. Green’s method consists of injecting an FDA-approved drug that has nanoparticles attached to it. A laser is used to heat the nanoparticles to kill cells they come into contact with. Using lasers for cancer treatment isn’t new, but Dr. Green’s research has made strides in troubleshooting nanoparticle delivery and clinical trials in animals.
“I’m really hoping this can change the way we treat cancer in America,” said Dr. Green. “There are so many people who only get a three-month or six-month survival benefit from the drugs they take. Then three or six months later, they’re sent home with no hope, nothing else we can do. Those are the patients I want to try to save, the ones where regular medicine isn’t effective for them.”
Dr. Green, now an assistant professor at Tuskegee University, says she feels compelled to exceed in her field to serve as a role model for young Black girls. She says it’s important for African American women to know that they can find careers and fulfillment from working in the STEM world, even though it’s now dominated by White men.
“There are black female scientists who don’t get media exposure,” Dr. Green said. “Because of that, young black girls don’t see those role models as often as they see Beyonce or Nicki Minaj. It’s important to know that our brains are capable of more than fashion and entertainment and music, even though arts are important.
“I did not get here by myself. Because of that clarity, I know my responsibility to encourage and mentor the next generation.”
This post has ben updated to clarify Dr. Green’s treatment method to reflect that the FDA drugs she uses in her research are attached to nanoparticles, rather than being injected with them. February 15, 2016.