Dr Simone Badal-McCreath is focused on becoming a pioneer in cancer treatment

BY NADINE WILSON All Woman writer

Sunday, March 02, 2014

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SHE was recently recognised as the leading young female chemist in Latin America and the Caribbean; holds two masters degrees and a doctorate; was named the Young Scientist of the Year in Jamaica in 2011; and has several other awards to boast about, but though noteworthy, Dr Simone Badal-McCreath believes her greatest achievement to date is having a good character.

The 32-year-old believes she has her father and her Christian upbringing to thank for this and feels her tenacity to be her best self has spilled over into her professional and academic life. Now in the middle of her research aimed at developing drugs to treat cancer, managing a lab and lecturing, she is penning her first book A woman's journey to success.

"It redefines success as we know it, not meaning success in terms of achievement, but being at a place that is divinely designed," she said. "It's achieving what God has ordained for you to achieve, even if you were supposed to sweep the floor, you do it to the best of your ability and realise that in sweeping the floor, you are making an environment clean."

Dr Badal-McCreath has no doubt that her journey to becoming a top-ranked scientist was divinely ordained. Her intention throughout high school was to become a doctor, but then she was unable to do physics in CXC and decided to apply to do pure and applied sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI) first in order to matriculate into medicine. However, she had a change of heart once she realised how much she loved bio-chemistry.

"Every door was just opened to where I wanted to go. It was not like I was sitting down one day and I said, 'Oh well now, I want to do sciences'. It just happened," she said.

"I am in love with what I do. I don't dread waking up in the morning thinking 'O my God, I have to go to the lab'. It's something I look forward to," she told All Woman.

It's quite a lot that the petite scientist has on her plate, but she has been tackling them in strides. Currently, she is responsible for managing a recently completed cell culture lab at the UWI Natural Products Institute and also lectures part-time at the University of Technology. Her primary interest now lies in screening Jamaican plant isolates that potentially hold properties to treat cancer which is among the leading causes of death in Jamaica. She is also working with a group of experts to create a novel Jamaican cancer cell line, since the Caucasian cell line is what is being mostly used for testing.

Her work in cancer research has been documented in local and international publications and it was based on her achievement in these areas that she was nominated and selected as one of five women worldwide to receive the Elsevier Foundation Award for Early Career Scientists in the Developing World on February 15. The award is presented by the World Academy of Sciences and the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World to women representing five regions -- Central and South Asia, East and South-East Asia and the Pacific, the Arab region, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, which Dr Badal-McCreath claimed.

Although the lack of funding to finance research continues to be a roadblock in the journey to progress, Dr Badal-McCreath said she was elated at winning the award.

"It is challenging in terms of the time and the tiredness, but when I won this award and I told my students, you should have seen their eyes, it brought so much motivation to me," she said.

Other awards Dr Badal-McCreath has won over the years include the Scientific Research Council Young Scientist of the Year award for 2011 as well as the Luther G Speare Memorial Scholarship in 2010. This scholarship was used to undertake her PhD work in biochemistry entitled "Screening for anticancer and chemo-protective properties of natural and synthetic compounds" at UWI.

Dr Badal-McCreath does not intend for her research to just stay in the lab. She hopes they will become commercial products and achieve the intended results. As such, she spent a year at the London School of Commerce so she could achieve a master of business administration from the University of Wales. She also has a master of philosophy from UWI.

"The main reason why I chose to do the MBA was I wanted to be able to market my science. I wanted to be diversified. I see that a lot of scientists at UWI, a part of their struggles in transitioning their results on the market is their lack of business mind or savviness for want of a better word. I don't like to start things and don't complete it and so for me, if I do research, the ultimate destiny is to see that making money or building my society," she said.

During her stay in London, Dr Badal-McCreath held down two jobs so she could finance her studies. During the week she was the administrative assistant at the college and on weekends, she worked at a post office filing mail.

"It was very mundane and you had to be standing on your feet for hours and hours and you only got like half an hour break to get to the bathroom and then you had to come back, so for me that was not enjoyment at all, but it was survival," said the young scientist.

Upon completing her MBA, she was accepted at the Cambridge University to pursue her doctorate, but feeling homesick and wanting to be back in Jamaica with her family, she did not pursue this opportunity. Instead she was convinced by one of her mentors and fellow scientists Dr Rupika Delgoda to pursue her doctorate at UWI and train undergraduate and post graduate students at the Natural Products Institute.

Although she is focused on becoming a pioneer in cancer treatment, Dr Badal-McCreath finds that being a wife is one of her most fulfilling roles. She enjoys spending as much time as possible with her husband of six years who is now completing his first degree in business at UWI. More than anything else, she loves going to the movies, relaxing in front of the TV, entertaining friends and preparing dinner.

"I am a believer that a woman should take care of her husband and I am a believer that a husband should take care of his wife as well, but I am also a perfectionist in that I don't just strive to do science or work well, but if I am cooking, my food should taste the best," she said.

Although she describes her husband as her gem, Dr Badal-McCreath still holds a special bond with her father who along with her stepmother raised her. There are also several other persons who she credits for her achievement as a young scientist, including her friends who help to keep her grounded.

"Outside of work, I think I am a wealthy person, because I have people in my life that I consider gems and are priceless," she said.

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