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Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green Wins $1.1 million Grant To Develop Laser That Kills Cancer Cells

Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green

When Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green receives invitations to be a guest speaker for professional groups, schools and nonprofit organizations, she almost never turns them down.

“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.”

By many measures, Green has been extremely busy. One of fewer than 100 black female physicists in the country, she recently won a $1.1 million grant to further develop her patent-pending technology for using laser-activated nanoparticles to treat cancer.

A tomboy as a child, Green was crowned Homecoming Queen at Alabama A&M University (by a landslide vote), earned her master’s and Ph.D degrees at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and is now is an assistant professor in the physics department at Tuskegee University.

It’s tempting to see Green for all the ways that she is unusual – not the least for winning a large grant at a relatively young age, and for being black and female in a field dominated by white men – but it’s not something she said she thinks about in her day-to-day life.

“It looks like I’m special, but I’m not. I’m no different from anybody else,” she said. “When opportunity found me, I was prepared.”

Close to home

Green’s personal history with cancer fuels her drive to find a way to treat it. She grew up in St. Louis and – after the death of her mother and father – was raised by her aunt and uncle, General Lee Smith and his wife, Ora Lee.

When Ora Lee was diagnosed with cancer, “She refused the treatment because she didn’t want to experience the side effects,” said Green. “It was heartbreaking, but I could appreciate she wanted to die on her own terms.

“Three months later, my uncle was diagnosed with cancer.”

Green took time off from school to help him through chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “I saw first-hand how devastating it was, and I could understand why my aunt didn’t want to go through that.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in physics with a concentration in fiberoptics, and then a full scholarship to UAB. She got the idea to use lasers to treat cancer without the side effects of chemo and radiation.

A physicist’s cancer treatment

A few months ago, Green was awarded a $1.1 million grant to work on a technology that targets, images and treats cancer.

“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 had spent seven years during her master’s and doctoral programs at UAB, developing a way to target cancer cells – not the healthy cells around them.

“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.”

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.

“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,” said Green. “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.”

While Green is not the first to think of using lasers and nanoparticles to treat cancer, she’s been able to work the bugs out of parts of the technology that have been problematic, like nanoparticle delivery and seeing success in living animals – mice, in Green’s case.

“As a physicist I’ve created a physical treatment that is not specific to the biology of the cancer,” she said. “It’s a platform technology. It’s not cancer type-specific, though it can treat the cancer specifically. That’s a concept my friends who are biologists struggle with.”

Capable of more

As she moves forward with her research and with teaching at Tuskegee, Green makes time to speak at schools, Boys & Girls Clubs and other youth events.

“People told me to make good grades and stay in school,” she said, “and I always take good advice to heart.”

Green said she feels a responsibility to be a positive example and change stereotypes of black women portrayed in media.

“There are black female scientists who don’t get media exposure,” she 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.”

Green has mentored several young women, many of whom have gone on to receive 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.”

Source: Anna Claire Vollers on

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  • This is a wonderful story. Congratulations to Dr. Green and her triumph!

    • Tj says:

      Awesome…black girls rock

    • Dr. Earnestine Clayton says:

      I’m overcomer; who has been affected by this disease call cancer. Started out as breast cancer and spreading throughout other areas of my body. I was a terminal and out patient hospice patient 3 times according to my Oncologist there was nothing else they could do. I was told to get my affairs in order because; I was going to die. I remember my husband saying to the doctor; if it’s my wife time she will not die here because she’s going home. Even though my journey of a faith walk. I didn’t feel mentally that I was going to die even more; so, I didn’t look like I felt because of the chemotherapy treatmentso are brutal to the body. I know that I’m here by grace and mercy being a nine year cancer patient and 5 treatments of chemotherapy for eight months and two radiation treatments of 7 weeks each, every day of the week. I’m overwhelmed by your story and Greatful to hear there is hope for the hopeless. The Oncologist said; that this cancer wouldn’t never leave my body. I just received my medical report results February 2017; I am alive today and cancer-free after being diagnosed year end of 2007. Because; my hope it’s by Faith in Jesus my Lord and Savior. Dr. Earnestine Clayton, Motivational Speaker

    • Roberta Hayward says:

      Keep. the good work up

  • Sarah Taylor says:

    What an inspiring story! Despise not painful beginnings. Congratulations Dr. Green.

  • Nothing but a blessing so happy for her continue to keep up the good work & a success to other young blacks.

  • Valentino Soriano says:

    Thank you for this inspiring story. Congratulations to Dr. Green for her accomplishments and future breakthroughs. As a father of two interracial girls, I love sharing the work of real role models that are critically important for our girls to have in times of so much superficially applied value (actors, singers, and sports figures).

    Real value is changing the world for the better. I am proud to share this and like stories. Much future success to Dr. Green and others like her!

  • You are an inspiration to many young women of color and I thank you for that from deep in my heart.

  • kathy l coley says:

    May I say, Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, I don’t know you personally but I am so proud of your enthusiasm of of persuing this cancer treatment. Although my father, at the age of 57, Colon Cancer, my aunt Breast Cancer, my 53 year old brother, Pancreatic Cancer in 2012, and my mother, with Kidney Cancer, passed in 2009, I believe that there will be a chance for many others in the present and future. I don’t have cancer, but I have been diagnose with Fibromyalgia for over 15 years and know what it is to suffer pain mostly daily. Continue to stay with the program and may God forever bless you with the strenghth that you need to pursue this disease.

    • Janice says:

      First, I want to say may God continue to blessed you. One of my sister is diagnose with colon cancer as I’m writing this. She’s 54. I’m praying everyday for her. I pray they would find a cure to destroy this disease. I lost a father and brother, now my sister has it. I hope and pray that you and your team would be the first to find a cure. God bless you.

  • kathy l coley says:

    May I say, Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, I don’t know you personally but I am so proud of your enthusiasm of of pursuing this cancer treatment. Although my father, at the age of 57, Colon Cancer, my aunt Breast Cancer, my 53 year old brother, Pancreatic Cancer in 2012, and my mother, with Kidney Cancer, passed in 2009, I believe that there will be a chance for many others in the present and future. I don’t have cancer, but I have been diagnose with Fibromyalgia for over 15 years and know what it is to suffer pain mostly daily. Continue to stay with the program and may God forever bless you with the strenghth that you need to pursue this disease.

  • Rachael says:

    Congratulations, Dr Green! I hope you have an opportunity to meet my 16yr old son, one day. He is taking AP physics and seems to be enjoying it so much.
    Your story will definitely inspire him to do his best.

  • Alfred Stinson says:

    So proud of Dr. Green. Hoping her work will inspire others to consider going into research and development of technolology to cure cancer.

  • Victor says:

    You are a blessing and an example of what black women should strive for.
    Keep up the good work and I look forward to working with people like you.

  • T Roper says:

    You make, not only your village, but all people very proud of you. Continued success to you.

  • Maryanne Hawkins says:

    Dear Dr Green, I am a kidney cancer patient since 1990.I lived cancer free until 2009,when mets were found in my pancreas and adrenal gland. I was taking sutent for 5years and have been on Votrient for the last year. Now we see small spots on my liver and lungs..If you ever put Canadian patients into a trip for your new discovery, I would be most grateful to take part. My oncologist is Dr. George Bjaranasan at the Odette Cancer Center at Sunny brook Hospital in Toronto Canada. Thank you for your work on behalf of hopeful cancer patients every where. Maryanne Hawkins.

  • Igwe alexander says:


  • Dr. Amanda C Dicksworth says:

    Thank you for this powerful inspirational story. This is a great example of community, strength, and what it means to give back.
    God uses all experiences to build us for our journey and purpose.

  • Alby N Cady says:

    Totally inspired! Well done Dr. Green

  • Buse Guta says:

    Wonderfull job!!!! God bless you and give you more vision to help others

  • chaku says:

    I applaud you and thank you for being a difference maker in this world period. I really thank you for your continued efforts to encourage, inspire, and guide others into fields of science and take it as a personal responsibility of yours to do it with an unpresidented effort. You make me smile all inside and cry tears of joy from my heart. I love you not on a personal level but as an individual that seeks and does good and giving yourself to better situations that other neglect. I adore and treasure people greatly that don’t take anything for granted. God bless and hold you and your family in his loving arms. In Jesus Name I ask humbly and pray…, Amen. <3 8

  • Dana McDade says:

    Thank you Dr. Green,
    Your work serves as a hope for us that have been impacted greatly by cancer. I too have lost many family members to cancer. A mother, two sisters, and two maternal aunts. I pray that one day we will be able to detect, isolate, and eradicate cancers cells from our bodies by laser treatment. Thank you again. I am very proud of your tenacity and courage.

    Dr. Dana McDade

  • Deborah Adanu says:

    I am really proud of work and I hope your work reaches those who need it the most. Indeed God uses our deepest pain to minister to others. Keep up the good work. God bless you.

  • Renita says:

    Congrat.Congrats. Maybe you’ll be able to help my mom.

  • Mariana says:

    Congrats Dr. Green??????

  • Tariq says:

    Congrats & Thank God…..May God bless you for your sacrifices and commitment!

  • carl schomberg says:

    Congratulation young and beautyful in and out dr Green

  • Jayla says:

    What an inspiring story. As a future physician planning to go to medical school next year, stories like these are motivation in itself to continue to strive for my goals. Thank you!

  • Anita Speller says:

    Amen what an awesome God we have you went through your trials and tribulations and you came out on top you did exactly what Jesus wanted you could do and you came out on top and I thank God for you I’m sorry for your losses gratulations I’m proud of you and I’m not your family but I’m no hater I love God I love Jesus I love you congratulations God bless you through your journey may he keep you well kept from the enemy in Jesus name amen

  • Natalie says:

    Outstanding story about a phenomenal young lady! “When opportunity found me, I was prepared.” She truly spoke a Word right there!!! #outstanding #solvingaproblemfortheworld

  • Marilyn Rose says:

    I love smart women! You go, girl!!?

  • RUTOH MKENYA says:

    Am in tears of joy,this are people who can end the hiv mistery rule.

  • Dr. Odufora Ifatogun says:

    Venerated Dr. Green:

    Keep in mind that DNA also contains Memory
    which affects, even oftentimes causes our Organic conditions, hence the Results of Each One’s Healing/ Reception to your therapy will be Relative.
    Your eventual achievement will surpass your present intention/ expectations!!

  • wilfred bergland says:

    God Bless you Dr Green, I hope you can inspire many of our young women and men to go into scientific field.
    Wilfred Bergland

  • Margaret Obaga says:

    Dr. Green, congratulations and best wishes to your ongoing scientific cancer related work.

  • Jim Harrington says:

    Fantastic, utterly fantastic! I hope to God it works exactly as you hope, and that it can ultimately be inexpensive enough that everyone who needs it can get it.
    You are such a huge inspiration to others, to girls, to persons of color, to every person who wants to make a difference.

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