Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green
Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green (Photo via Tuskegee University)

For Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, the fight against cancer is a personal one.

After her parents died, Green was raised by her grandparents, General Lee Smith and Ora Lee; Ora Lee was diagnosed with cancer but refused treatment.

“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,” Green told AL.com. “Three months later, my uncle was diagnosed with cancer.”

Her uncle didn’t refuse treatment, but Green saw how much it took out of him.

“I saw firsthand how devastating it was, and I could understand why my aunt didn’t want to go through that,” she said.

But while the physicist was at the University of Alabama, Green began working on a new way to treat cancer, using lasers.

“I’m really hoping this can change the way we treat cancer in America. There are so many people who only get a 3-month or 6-month survival benefit from the drugs they take. Then 3 or 6 months later, they’re sent home with no hope, nothing else we can do,” Green explained. “Those are the patients I want to try to save, the ones where regular medicine isn’t effective for them.”

The technology would use an FDA-approved drug to target tumors with nanoparticles, which glow under imaging equipment. The lasers then target the particles.

“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.”

Green has already seen some success in the treatment in living animals like mice.

Green also told AL.com she feels a responsibility to positively represent black women for young girls.

“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,” she said. “It’s important to know that our brains are capable of more than fashion and entertainment and music, even though arts are important.”