“Shining Light:” Physicist Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green is a Cancer Treatment Pioneer with an Inspiring Mission

By Julia Travers
Publish date:
Social count:
By Julia Travers
Image via https://vimeo.com/165898510: Dr. Hadiyah Nicole Green at the Culture Shift Labs Social Innovation Action Tank

Image via https://vimeo.com/165898510: Dr. Hadiyah Nicole Green at the Culture Shift Labs Social Innovation Action Tank

Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green is a multi-disciplinary physicist and the recipient of a $1.1 million research award that she will use to study her unique LANT (laser-activated nano-therapy) multi-cancer treatment. In trials with mice, this method targeted cancer cells and was able to spare healthy surrounding cells with great success. Her treatment does not bring with it the difficult side effects that come with many traditional cancer treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery which, as you’ll learn below, is a very important factor to Green. Green believes this LANT will evolve into an effective outpatient treatment for many types of cancer.

Green’s Story

Unfortunately, Green’s parents died during her childhood. From the age of four, she was raised in St. Louis by her aunt and uncle, General Lee Smith and his wife Ora Lee. Sadly, both of these parental figures were diagnosed with cancer—her aunt before her uncle. Green was told her aunt had cancer after she graduated from Alabama A&M University. Her aunt chose to decline treatment due to the side effects. Green shared in a talk at the Culture Shift Labs Social Innovation Action Tank that she was her aunt’s primary caregiver and saw “the horrors of cancer.” Three months after her aunt passed away, Green cared for her uncle through his chemotherapy and radiation treatment which she describes in an Alabama.com article as “devastating.” These difficult and formative experiences drove Green’s research into developing a minimally-invasive cancer treatment without these side effects. 

The Root.com tells us that Green is the first person in her family to attend college. She earned a BA in Physics with a concentration in Fiberoptics at Alabama A&M University. She was awarded a full scholarship to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she earned her master's and Ph.D. in Physics. She served as an Assistant Physics Professor at Tuskegee University for two years and she learned about grant writing during this period. She then became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology at the Morehouse School of Medicine. She also established The Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation which her site explains is in memory of “her aunt, Ora Lee ‘Auntee’ Smith.” 

In a StyleBlueprint article, Green explains:

I want to be a good steward over this [cancer-fighting laser] and I want it to be available to people that don’t have insurance, to people that are underinsured, who may not have other alternatives, who can’t afford the pharmaceuticals, who have been sent home to die.

The $1.1 million in research funding she received in 2016 comes in the form of a Historically Black Colleges and Universities Research Scientist Training Program Career Development Award from the VA Office of Research and Development. This 34-year-old is one of the fewer than 100 African American female physicists in the country. Also, she is the second African American woman and the fourth African American individual to earn a doctoral Physics degree from The University of Alabama Birmingham. In the Root.com article, she cites Barak Obama’s presidency as one of her inspirations: “[i]f [Obama] gets elected as president of the United States, I can get a Ph.D. in physics.”

Green’s Research

Green’s LANT system which she spent seven years developing at UAB is a three-part targeting, imaging, and treatment process. In her own explanation, this system 

enables the combination of tumor receptor site targeting, targeted nanoparticle delivery, fluorescent imaging, and laser-activated nanoparticle therapy that results in marked tumor regression in mice.

During the treatment, FDA approved nano-particles cause the cancer cells to fluoresce when viewed with imaging equipment. A laser then activates and heats the nanoparticles, creating a thermal death for the cancer cells. The laser and nanoparticles are both harmless when not combined, which Green explains boosts the treatment’s ability to target cancer cells and avoid healthy cells. 

While the use of lasers and nanoparticles in cancer treatment has been previously studied, Green’s successful nanoparticle delivery and live-animal tumor reduction rates stand out. Her report shares that mice showed “~100% tumor regression (shrinkage) over 15 days after one laser-activated nano-therapy treatment.” The visible absence of the mouse tumor after 15 days was confirmed by a board certified pathologist. Her summary report has an inspiring title: “Shining Light on a Big Problem with a Really Small Solution.” She shares in the Al.com article that, "As a physicist, I've created a physical treatment that is not specific to the biology of the cancer. It's a platform technology.”

What’s Next for Green?

Green hopes and plans that within about three to five years, her unique LANT process will be a proven photo-nano-therapy treatment for many types of cancers, including cervical, bladder, breast, ovarian, skin, colorectal, prostate, and pancreatic. It is intended to be used as both an initial and adjuvant therapy and as a more affordable, minimally invasive outpatient treatment with minimal side effects. 

While Green is busy with research, she also makes it a priority to speak for schools, non-profits, and other groups. She said on Al.com that, “I did not get here by myself. Because of that clarity, I know my responsibility to encourage and mentor the next generation." She takes her powerful position as an African American female role model in the media seriously. In an inspiring September 2016 Facebook post, she shared: “Looking forward to speaking to the students at M. Agnes Jones Elementary School this afternoon...because giving back is important too!”

You can follow Physicist Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green’s work on her website, physics2cancer.org, where The Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation also accepts tax-deductible donations which are used entirely to benefit Green’s research. 

-Julia Travers