All Articles Tagged "cancer research"
When most people think of a physicist, they think of Albert Einstein, not a beautiful young Black woman. But Hadiyah-Nicole Green is about to change that–and, in fact, she wants to.
Green was recently awarded a $1.1 million cancer research grant through the Veterans Affairs Historically Black Colleges and Universities Research Scientist Training Program to help her continue the groundbreaking work she has started to battle the disease. The physicist is working to advance a cancer treatment involving lasers and nanoparticles and developing a way to target cancer cells. And she has proven success with the process in lab mice.
Of course, winning a $1.1 million grant is a major accomplishment, but the journey of how Green came to be one of the country’s top scientists as well as a Morehouse School of Medicine Assistant Professor is one of inspiration. The 35 year old, you see, is the first in her family to ever go to college. And not only did the St. Louis native make it to graduation, in 2012 Green became the second African American woman to receive a PhD in physics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), an accolade she takes in stride. More than that, Green is one of less than 100 Black women physicists in the entire United States.
After graduation, Green immediately got 12 job offers. She first took a short-term offer in Singapore, after which she accepted an assistant professorship at Tuskegee University. But the science star’s road to success hasn’t been easy, though you’d never know it from her cheery disposition. Green lost her mother due to an accident when she was 18 months old. Raised by her aunt and uncle since the age of four, Green’s aunt later succumbed to the very disease she studies every day. After her uncle developed cancer and went through chemotherapy and radiation, Green realized her calling. Seeing the pain and suffering cancer treatment causes, a young Green decided she wanted to find a more humane way of attacking cancer cells. Thus her work, which adapts modern technology to pinpoint cancerous cells and attack them directly without having to affect the rest of the body. And Green has now established the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation in memory of her aunt.
We spoke with Green about her accomplishments and her aspirations to transform cancer treatment as we know it. See what the fun, optimistic, innovative physicist had to say during our chat below.
MadameNoire (MN): What gave you the determination to attend college when no one in your family had done so before?
Hadiyah-Nicole Green (HNG): That’s a good question. Even though I didn’t have the examples around me of people going to college, I knew I wanted something different out of life from what I saw in my immediate surroundings. I wanted to give myself the best chance to have the kind of life where I would not have to worry about financial struggles.
I looked at people who were not struggling as much and the common denominator was that they had college degrees. One of my best friends, both her parents went to college and they just had a better quality of life. They also waited until they were older to have children. I saw a lot of women in my family have children early and they were single mothers, and I didn’t want to have that struggle.
My friend’s mother was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She and other members of the sorority started mentoring me when I was in the 8th grade and eventually helped me get a scholarship to attend Alabama A&M University. I was a member of Del-teens which exposed me to women who were college educated and successful.
MN: So having mentors made a big difference in your life?
HG: Without their impact it would have been a different story. I was already on the right path, I did well in school, but they really made the crooked path straight. All of the young ladies who were mentored by the Deltas have done really well; what they did for us was valuable. What they did for me changed my life.
MN: You are also only the second African American woman to receive a PhD in physics from UAB. What does that feel like?
HG: I don’t think about it; the only time I think about it is when I am doing an interview and someone asks me. (laughs)
It’s one of those things where people make a big deal about it, but I wish there were more of us and I think soon we will cross over the mark of more than 100! I think Black women have been amazing throughout history and when my mentors expect greatness from me it’s just part of the everyday business of being a Black women. I don’t think I am doing anything special.
I do think Black women in science should be celebrated more. Someone asked me if I was going to be on Black Girls Rock. Maybe one day I will get invited because Black girls in science rock too!
MN: Why physics?
HG: Why is how I started. Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? I was always asking why, and at one point my family couldn’t answer my questions any more so it came to “God made the grass green.” So of course, I asked “Why did God pick the color green.” Eventually they gave me a set of encyclopedias so I could look up the answers.
Also, one of my older brothers would have me do his homework, especially his math homework. And when I would get the answer right he would get so excited, so he made it fun. He thought he was just getting out of doing his homework in the 4th grade, but I was enjoying it.
My freshman year of college, I met the woman who went on to become the 50th Black woman to get her PhD in physics and a conversation with her made me change my major to physics. I was taking calculus as a freshman. She challenged me to take physics to see if I could do as well as I was doing in calculus. I graduated with a 4.0 as a physics major and that was my entry into science.
MN: Once you began your career, why did you decide to focus on curing cancer?
HG: My aunt who raised me since age 4 told me right after I graduated from college that she had women’s cancer. She never specified what type of cancer, so probably cervical or ovarian, but she did say refused to go through treatment. I was her caregiver and I got to see firsthand how cancer destroys your body.
Then three months later my uncle got diagnosed with cancer but he went through treatment and I saw all the effects. It was awful and I saw why my aunt opted out of it. My uncle did go on to live for 10 years more, but both of those experiences made me think there had to be a better way to deal with cancer. Thinking about how a satellite from space can look down to the Earth and see if a dime is faced up or face down, I thought, why can’t we use that specific location technique to narrow in on cancer tumors? And that was my motivation to go to grad school; I went on a mission.
MN: And your mission has been successful so far.
HG: I knew this [cancer treatment idea] was huge. There was a comprehensive cancer center
on UAB’s campus and I met one person who allowed me to come work in his lab. It took me seven years to get my PhD and to develop this treatment. I demonstrated a way to shrink tumors in a living mouse using nanotechnology (the branch of technology that deals with dimensions and tolerances of less than 100 nanometers, especially the manipulation of electrons). Now I just have to get money to use this for humans . Yes, I did get $1.1 million and I am very humbled by it. It is a five-year award to further develop the technology and enhance my professional development.
I have actually developed two treatments–one focusing on tumor shrinkage/tumor regression; the second is monotherapy, an enhancement of immunotherapy and an interface with personalized medicine, which is the subject of the grant I received. But I still need more money to move ahead. We’re talking upwards of $20 million. I still need to gather support by a fundraising effort. If people want to make a donation, they can visit my website: www.physics2cancer.org .
MN: What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your field?
HG: I feel like David and Goliath in dealing with the pharmaceutical companies. I do believe this is my mission and my calling in life and that God didn’t bring me this far to give up. Also, because of the media exposure I have been getting, people who have cancer have been contacting me to take part in trials but I have to turn them away. I am still far away from clinical trials. I need more money for that, and approval. But it makes me feel bad to turn away people who are looking for their last hope.
MN: What do you like to do outside of work?
HG: Outside of work, I love to travel. I may go to a conference and if I go to someplace really cool I take vacation time. I will do this in Puerto Rico when I go for a course on cancer stem cells next week. I love traveling. If I can get the time. I have to work on work-life balance. I have been accused of being a workaholic.
I really like the concept of letting food be your medicine, natural remedies. It is more of my hobby, finding foods that help when you are ill. And the other thing I love doing is taking photos. When I travel I like to do photo shoots of the flowers–which may become a fundraiser for my research. I may auction off a collection of my flower photos.
MN: What do you enjoy most about your work?
HG: At first I wasn’t too excited about the media attention, but when little girls send me letters saying they want to be like Dr. Green when they grow up, then it’s all worth it.
When I was growing up I didn’t see an example of a Black female scientist, I didn’t see images of people like me in the lab doing research. And when I thought of a physicist, I thought of Albert Einstein. I hope in the future people will also think of me, a Black female physicist.
— Diverse Issues (@DiverseIssues) January 6, 2016
Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green is a rarity. In the White, male dominated field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Dr. Green represents 1 of less than 100 Black women who currently work as physicists in the country.
And thankfully, she understands that in her position, there comes a huge level of responsibility. In a recent profile of Dr. Green in AL.com, she explained that though she’s extremely busy working as an assistant professor at Tuskegee University and conducting much-needed cancer treatment research, she rarely declines an invitation to speak to professional groups, nonprofit organizations and schools.
“Usually if there is an invitation to speak at a forum like that, I accept it because I feel like it’s a responsibility,” she said. “There are so few of us (black women in STEM fields) I don’t feel like I have the luxury to say I’m too busy.”
Dr. Green, who was raised by her aunt and uncle after her parents died, understands the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child.
Growing up in St. Louis, Dr. Green was a tomboy before she was crowned Homecoming Queen at Alabama A&M University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in physics with a concentration in fiberoptics. On full scholarship, she went on to earn her Ph.D degrees at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) before coming back to teach at another HBCU, Tuskegee University.
She has a personal connection to the cancer research she is currently conducting. After the death of both her mother and father, she was raised by her aunt and uncle, Ora Lee and her husband General Lee Smith.
When her aunt was diagnosed with cancer, “She 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.”
Three months later, her uncle was diagnosed with cancer.
He took a different approach than his wife and decided to go through with chemotherapy and radiation. Dr. Green took time off from school to help him through the process. Watching her uncle fight the disease, she had new understanding of her aunt’s choice.
“I saw first-hand how devastating it was, and I could understand why my aunt didn’t want to go through that.”
Sometime during her seven years of study at UAB, Dr, Green got the idea to use lasers to treat cancer without the same side effects associated with chemo and radiation.
The treatment, according to AL.com, works like this:
The way the technology works is that an FDA-approved drug containing nanoparticles is injected into a cancer patient and causes the patient’s tumor to fluoresce (glow) under imaging equipment. The goal is for a laser to activate the nanoparticles by heating them.
The nano particles would only attack the cancerous cells, reducing the nausea, fatigue and hair loss often associated with chemotherapy.
“They are not toxic, so without the laser they won’t kill anything, and the laser by itself is harmless, so without the particles it won’t hurt anything. Because of their need to work together and their inability to work apart, I can insure that the treatment is only happening to the cancer cells we target and identify.”
Green hopes her treatment will be able to assist patients other doctors may have given up on.
“I’m really hoping this can change the way we treat cancer in America. 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.”
A few months ago, Dr. Green was awarded $1.1 million to continue her research.
While she is not the first doctor to propose this treatment, her seven year research, during her master’s and doctoral programs at UAB, she has been able to work out some of the kinks of the technology.
Outside of her cancer research, Dr. Green says she feels compelled to offer a positive example to young Black girls to counteract the stereotypes that are so often depicted in the media.
“There are black female scientists who don’t get media exposure. 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.”
Green has mentored several young women who have gone on to earn degrees and jobs in science-related fields.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” she said. “I repeat that because a village of people helped raise me and instill values in me, and encouraged me to get to this point. I did not get here by myself. Because of that clarity, I know my responsibility to encourage and mentor the next generation.”
You can check out more images of Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green over at AL.com.
In 1951, a 31-year-old woman by the name of Henrietta Lacks took her last breath. Unfortunately, she succumbed to the cervical cancer that took residency in her body, but the legacy that she left behind shaped DNA and cancer research as we know it. She was treated for her illness at Johns Hopkins. During one of her radiation sessions, two samples were taken from her cervix without her permission. One sample was swapped from a healthy area of her cervix, while the other was taken from a cancerous area.The cells eventually became known as HeLa immortal cell line and are generally used in biomedical research. The interesting tale is best recounted in 2010 best-seller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
It is said that the samples taken from Henrietta set the groundwork for the multi-million dollar biomedical research industry, as they allowed researchers to analyze the cells in a way that they couldn’t on living humans. To date, Henrietta’s relatives have yet to see a dime of the millions of dollars made off of her cells, but as of yesterday, they’ve gained a little more control over scientists who are given access to the cells and what they’re allowed to do with them.
The legal battle was a rather legnthy one, but the family reached a settlement with the National Institutes of Health. According to Washington Post, under the new agreement, two family members will retain seats on the six-member committee that regulates scietists and doctors who want to conduct research on the cells. In addition to being including in the decision making,they will receive their due credit in any scientific journals that come as a result of the research being conducted on the cells. According to the Huffington Post, this decision was reached after the family raised concerns about researchers who wanted to go public with Henrietta’s DNA makeup.
“The main issue was the privacy concern and what information in the future might be revealed,” said Henrietta’s grandson David Jr.
“In the past, the Lacks family has been left in the dark. We are excited to be part of the important HeLa science to come,” added Henrietta’s granddaughter Jeri Lacks Whye.
Good for them!
Robin Roberts brings a warm presence to ABC’s Good Morning America as co-anchor with her winning personality, wide smile and bright, almond shaped eyes. For folk who wake up in the morning to a daily dose of Robert’s, they feel a wholesome contentedness, like sipping homemade chicken noodle soup. So when she announced to the world that she was battling MDS (Myelodysplastic Syndrome) and needed a bone marrow transplant, our hearts wretched for her, as if she was a close family member. Her pain was our pain, and we wanted to see her healed and win this battle just as she’d done with breast cancer. In honor of her unwavering perseverance, we count the reasons Roberts holds a place in our hearts.
by R. Asmerom
It has been a very rattling year for the Suan G. Komen Foundation – an agency that raises funds for cancer research and treatment. On the heels of its publcly criticized flip-flopping on the Planned Parenthood issue, the CEO of its New York affiliate Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron resigned today.
Earlier this year, Susan G. Komen for The Cure cut funding to Planned Parenthood in lieu of the fact that it was under congressional investigation for using federal funds to deliver abortion services.
Many in the public saw the Komen Foundation’s move as highly political and many protested its policy of cutting breast health programs. Amidst the backlach it received, The Foundation decided to re-fund Planned Parenthood.
The controversy however rattled the organization and strained its leadership.
Abigail Pesta of Newsweek and The Daily Beast reported on the recent resignation of Richardson-Heron who headed one of its most powerful affiliates in terms of fundraising. Although Richardson-Heron stated in a letter to constituents that she “made a personal decision to leave” and “to pursue new career opportunities,” it is believed that the recent controversy highly determined the turn of events:
Eve Ellis, a former board member of the Komen affiliate in New York City, said she believes Richardson-Heron’s resignation is tied to the Planned Parenthood controversy. “I can’t say exactly why she [resigned], but I can tell you that Dara was working behind the scenes before the decision to cut funds to Planned Parenthood, saying, ‘Please don’t do this.’ After the decision, she was working behind the scenes to reverse it,” Ellis told The Daily Beast. She added, “I have the utmost respect for Dara. I was on the selection committee when we selected her—she is an impressive force.”
The Foundation recently canceled two important fund-raising events in New York city due to “concerns about efforts to raise funds in the near term.” In recent weeks, two other high profile executives have also resigned and now there is pressure being put on Nancy Brinker, the founder of the organization, to step down in order to restore the reputation of the agency. “I really feel that she can salvage this situation by stepping aside,” Ellis told The Daily Beast about Brinker. “I don’t mind if she steps aside as a hero, saying, look what I’ve built, with the help of others. The mission is bigger than all of us. Go out a hero, a martyr. It’s in Nancy Brinker’s hands and in her board’s hands. They are not an independent board—her son is on it. They need to be an independent voice.”
LL Cool J, alongside his wife, Simone Smith, and daughter Italia, raised $100,000 dollars for cancer research.
All of this goodness took place last weekend in Hirshleifers in Manhasset, Long Island at an event called, “Why Fashion Matters.”
LL played auctioneer for the evening while his wife, a jewelry designer, co-hosted.
This event was particularly important to the Smiths as Simone is a cancer survivor.
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