Battle with cancer inspires graduate research for Louisiana Tech student

Apr 19, 2021 | Applied and Natural Sciences, Research, Students, Tech Family

Hillary Husband, who is earning her PhD in Molecular Science and Nanotechnology, has focused her research efforts on maximizing cancer treatment’s efficacy while reducing its toxicity.

Husband’s focus is to build a predictive model that can adjust the dose of doxorubicin, a chemotherapy drug used in several cancer treatments, on a by-case basis. Before beginning her research, Husband was treated with this same drug when she had leukemia and lymphoma.

At 14, Husband became sick and passed out during a dance audition. She was brought to the emergency room.

“That night, they diagnosed me with acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” Husband said.

She received treatment from St. Jude for three years in high school and finished treatment in December 2010. It was during this time Husband realized she wanted to work in medicine.

While attending Louisiana College to study chemistry, Husband was diagnosed with cancer two more times. During her third year, she took a research internship at Notre Dame. This experience inspired her to pursue research professionally.

“Research can be really discouraging, and it’s not something that everyone is cut out for,” Husband said. “It takes a certain type of person to do that, and I realized that I was that kind of person.”

Husband decided to pursue a graduate degree at Louisiana Tech for its reputation in engineering and science. Here, she researches pharmacokinetics, which studies how drugs behave in the body.

“For me, it’s important that the field of pharmacokinetics is there to help limit the trial and error on patients,” Husband said.

With Husband’s predictive model, samples taken from a patient can be plugged in to predict the correct dose of doxorubicin needed over a certain period of time.

This model has positive impacts for cancer patients, Dr. Mary Caldorera-Moore, Biomedical Engineering Professor and member of Husband’s graduate committee, said. It could make patients more comfortable during treatment.

“They won’t have all of the harsh side effects that come along with getting chemotherapeutics like losing their hair, weakness, fatigue, sickness,” Caldorera-Moore said. “All of those things we could possibly alleviate.”

Mentoring Husband has been a pleasure for Caldorera-Moore.

“Hillary has just been one of those exceptional students to have the opportunity to get to know and get to work with,” she said. “She is just so enthusiastic and eager.”

This experience is also true for Dr. Jamie Newman, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Applied and Natural Sciences. As a member of Husband’s graduate committee, Newman has had the opportunity to learn her story and watch her grow as a student here.

“It has been inspiring to know Hillary and an honor to be a part of her experience at Louisiana Tech,” Newman said.

It is necessary for scientists to be able to effectively communicate to others, and Husband has the traits required to do so, Newman said. She’s humble, empathetic and giving.

While working with Husband, Caldorera-Moore and Newman said they have been impressed with her ability to stay focused and achieve her goals while also pursuing outreach efforts.

Husband has been telling her story as a patient since 17 for different panels, events and promotions for St. Jude.

“It’s really fun getting to travel, pre-COVID, and speak for the events,” Husband said.

She also serves as an adviser for Tri Delta, a sorority whose philanthropy is St. Jude.

Husband continues to work hard and encourages those with similar stories and aspirations to do the same.

“You’ve done harder things,” she said. “You’ve gotten through cancer treatment and you’ve come out the other side. You’ve done harder things than this test. You’ve done harder things than this project. Take that perseverance that you had to have, and put that same perseverance towards what you want to do. And if you can do that, you can do anything.”

This story written by Communication student Madison Remrey.