Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green’s Potential Cancer Treatment

After witnessing the horrific side effects of current cancer treatments as a kid, Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green started her journey studying a potential cancer cure with no side effects. Green was raised by her aunt and uncle who, later in her life, were both diagnosed with cancer. After being diagnosed with female reproductive cancer, her aunt explained how she’d rather die than face the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. In 2005, Green’s aunt would pass away and her uncle would be diagnosed with both esophageal and prostate cancer. 

Before her aunt was diagnosed, Green attended Alabama A&M University where she studied physics. She graduated in 2003 with a perfect 4.0 GPA and planned on working to improve fiber optics. However, after her uncle was diagnosed with prostate cancer and her aunt passed away just two years after she graduated, Green decided to use her knowledge of lasers to develop a treatment for cancer. Chemotherapy has many side effects including hair loss, fatigue, anemia, nausea, and mood changes. “I was her primary caregiver the last three months of her life, and I watched her go from this powerful matriarch in our family to someone who couldn’t walk, speak or stand on her own,” said Green. 

She had interned at NASA during her summer in college and worked with calibrating lasers for the International Space Station. With her prior knowledge of lasers, she proposed her idea to a physicist at the University of Alabama Birmingham, Sergey Mirov, and was accepted as a graduate student. Her potential cancer treatment consisted of injecting gold nanoparticles into tumors which are then heated using lasers. When heated, the particles warm up and vibrate which destroyed the tumor cells without affecting any of the surrounding healthy cells. In her experiments, she was able to show that mice with skin cancer had almost 100% tumor regression with her treatment, the only thing left was to prove it worked on humans.

In 2016, James Lillard, an immunobiologist and associate dean for research at Morehouse School of Medicine recruited Green. She then started a nonprofit named after her aunt, the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation, to help raise money to start testing her method in human clinical trials. In that same year, she received a 1.1 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to continue her work.

Green is a boundary breaker in many ways, and is only the 76th black woman to receive a Ph.D. in physics at an American university. “As a child, there were no scientists in my life, let alone a physicist. I didn’t have that example, but I loved learning,” said Green in an interview with The Scientist. Hopefully that desire to learn will lead to great medical breakthroughs in the future.