Hadiyah Nicole-Green is an African-American physicist working on a revolutionary new cancer treatment that uses laser-activated nanoparticles to target affected cells. The groundbreaking technology saw a 100% likelihood of tumor shrinkage when tested on mice and earned Green a $1.1 million grant to further develop her patent-pending treatment in 2016. She likens the difference between radiation—the current standard for cancer treatment—and laser-therapy to dropping an atom bomb on a whole region as opposed to zoning in on a particular building. As a physicist, it simply did not make sense to her why the entire body has to undergo a treatment that is meant to target a specific type of cell.
The idea first occurred to Green during a college internship at NASA, after which she went on to graduate school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, determined to figure out how to use lasers to create a more effective treatment for cancer. Her motivation was personal—she had lost both her aunt and uncle to cancer within the span of one year. Orphaned at a young age, Green had been raised by them for most of her life, ultimately serving as the caregiver to both of her surrogate parents in their final months. Green saw firsthand how cancer devastates the human body; she witnessed the harrowing impact of chemotherapy on her uncle while her aunt opted to forego treatment altogether.
Now an assistant professor at Tuskegee University, the 36-year-old Green is continuing to expand on her innovative approach to cancer treatment. She hopes to eventually establish a non-profit through which the treatment will be accessible to patients of all income levels, regardless of whether or not they are insured. Despite everything else on her plate, Green makes an effort to speak at schools, Boys & Girls Clubs, and other youth based organizations whenever possible. She recognizes that women— and specifically women of color—are astonishingly underrepresented in the sciences and hopes her example will encourage more young girls to reach their potential. “It’s a huge honor and it’s humbling to be at the forefront,” notes Green, when considering her influence as a role model. She carries that weight with the same grace she has maintained throughout her education and career. “The lessons learned, the heartaches, the struggles. I know that I wouldn’t be where I’m at now if I hadn’t gone through those things.”