“I found that I really loved research,” she says of her work in China, at Tougaloo and at Brown. “But I wasn’t going to stop the dream of going to medical school — so I combined both.” In the midst of her summer research program at Brown, Byrd applied to the school’s dual M.D./Ph.D. program, which she now almost has completed.
|Using the fluorescent, intercallating dye Sytox Green, Byrd is able to detect the neutrophil extracellular traps — when white blood cells throw their DNA to capture invading microbes. Scale bar is 100 µm. Photo: Angel Byrd
Studying immune response
With most of her Ph.D. research under her belt, Byrd has only the final two years of medical training left. Her Ph.D. research focuses on primary human neutrophils — white blood cells — and how they act within the body.
Recently, Byrd identified neutrophil extracellular traps — when the cells sacrifice themselves and expel their DNA like a net to capture invading bacteria or viruses. “These traps are such a new phenomenon. They’re so fragile that we didn’t have the tools to identify them,” she says. “Now, we have so many innovative ways to analyze cells, we’re actually able to see what’s really going on.” She is looking at the traps to determine how much of a good thing is too much: when the system becomes perturbed with excess inflammation or when blood vessels become clogged.
Byrd says she ultimately wants to become a pediatric endocrinologist, taking advantage of translational medicine to understand Type 2 diabetes on an individual basis and to help inform patients so that they can make appropriate lifestyle changes to improve their health. But she isn’t waiting until she has the degree to start giving back to her community.
Community values and giving back
The first years of her dual program were “strictly the research — work, work, work,” Byrd says. She focused on her own goal to make sure she would achieve it before she started focusing on helping others reach their goals. “I knew there was a point that I had to decide when to reach back and help somebody else,” she says. Now that she sees the light at the end of the tunnel for her Ph.D., Byrd can contribute to her community in new ways.
|Angel Byrd (second from left) celebrates her achievements at the 2011 UNCF An Evening of Stars television event in Pasadena, Calif. With her are fellow awardee Eric Marks Jr. (from left), United Negro College Fund President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Lomax, Black Entertainment Television CEO Debra Lee and other awardees Delrisha White, Raavin Evans and Fatima Bodrick. Photo: BET/UNCF
“Going back to help those who are along the way in their own academic paths also is very high on my priority list,” Byrd says. She participates in the annual Leadership Alliance symposium, moderating sessions and oral presentations and working directly with undergraduates. “I try to reach back and make sure that I’m keeping that pathway open for the next generations that are coming through,” she says.
Byrd’s Christian faith is also important to her, and her involvement in the faith community is one of the driving forces behind her passion to contribute. Recently, Byrd helped organize a cotillion and beautillion, a coming-out celebration at which youth show their commitment to improving society while becoming young adults.
Still, Byrd says, “I don’t do nearly as much as I want to do and as much as I hope one day I will be able to do when I’m established in my career. I do as much as I can with different organizations where I can fit in and do something that has an impact.”