“It looks like I’m special, but I’m not. I’m no different from anybody else,” Hadiyah-Nicole Green said. “When opportunity found me, I was prepared.”
Green may be humble about her career achievements as one of only 100 Black female physicists that are currently working in the American 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, 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.”
Green is personally invested in her work, as both her aunt and uncle who raised her after her parents died 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, Green had taken off time from school to care for her relatives while they were undergoing chemo and radiation treatments. Eventually, she got Bachelor’s in physics and a full scholarship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where she earned her master’s and PhD. While there, Green devised a solution to aid cancer patients with lasers to avoid the side effects of chemo and radiation. Her treatment method is specifically designed for patients who can’t take more traditional, generic drugs.
Green’s method consists of injecting an FDA-approved drug that has nanoparticles to illuminate their tumor under imaging equipment; the laser makes the tumor glow by heating the nanoparticles, thereby making it easier to identify and target them. Using lasers for cancer treatment isn’t new, but 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 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.”
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,” 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.”