As a child growing up on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, Loretta Grey Cloud thought that she would be a dental assistant someday. But as a young adult, a college professor recognized her potential as a biomedical researcher and began mentoring her.
The scientists in this lab, led by senior investigator Thomas H. Bugge, PhD, study enzymes involved in the abnormal remodeling of tissue, such as in the thinning of bones in osteoporosis. They also investigate the undesirable collagen degradation that enables cancer cells to invade healthy nearby tissue.
“My research centers on the role of a collagen receptor—the mannose receptor—and its importance in bone homeostasis,” said Grey Cloud. “We believe it may constitute a novel target for osteoporosis treatment.”
The scientists rely on sophisticated research techniques, including mouse molecular genetics, advanced imaging procedures, genomics, and state-of-the-art biochemistry.
From reservation to NIDCR research lab
Grey Cloud is an enrolled member of the Hunkpati Dakota Oyate and has Kul Wicasa Lakota blood as well. After her early years fishing and riding horses on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, she was a full-time student at a Native American tribal college on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. At the same time, she balanced being a mom and having a part-time job.
During her first year at Salish Kootenai College, her molecular and cellular biology professor, Dr. Elizabeth Rutledge, invited Grey Cloud to be an intern in her bacteriophage research lab. Over the next three years, Grey Cloud learned how to design primers, run PCRs (polymerase chain reactions), and devise her own experiments.
While presenting her first scientific poster at a SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) meeting in 2011, Grey Cloud won an award and captured the interest of Dr. David Wilson, who was then the director of the Native American initiatives for SACNAS.
“Dr. Wilson suggested that I look into a summer position at NIH, and he helped me navigate through the application process for the NIH OITE [Office of Intramural Training & Education] Summer Internship Program] in biomedical research,” said Grey Cloud.
She took Dr. Wilson’s advice and successfully earned a summer internship at NIDCR in Dr. Bugge’s lab. It was such a positive experience that she asked to return after she graduated from college.
Just like another family
As a research trainee on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Grey Cloud is unfortunately a long way from her two children, who now reside in British Columbia, Canada, with their father.
“I am lucky to have a family who is as invested in our future as I am. We all have to make sacrifices in our lives, and this experience [as a research trainee at NIDCR] is a once in a lifetime for me,” said Grey Cloud. “Although my children don’t have me in their day-to-day lives, they have many aunties, uncles, cousins, grandmothers, and grandfathers. They receive unconditional love from so many relatives.”
Grey Cloud travels to see her children as often as she can, even though that means driving for many hours across hundreds of miles.
Family and community are important, and on the Bethesda campus, she was quick to spot other NIHers wearing turquoise earrings. They told her about the unofficial group at NIH called Native Scholars. Members of this group have dinners to socialize, network, and celebrate milestones, such as when manuscripts are accepted for publication or members receive acceptance letters for graduate school. If things go as planned, the Native Scholars will soon be celebrating Grey Cloud’s acceptance to dental school and also the publication of the journal article about her latest research project.
Just as she found a strong community spirit on the NIH campus, Grey Cloud was fortunate to establish a bond among her colleagues in the lab.
“I feel really blessed to be in the lab that I’m in because everyone’s so helpful and kind,” said Grey Cloud. “We have lunch as a family every day. It’s literally like another family—We eat together!”
To improve oral health on the reservation
In part because of limited access to dental care, Native Americans are at high risk of developing tooth decay and other oral health conditions. By practicing dentistry or by conducting biomedical or public health research, Grey Cloud wants to be part of the solution to that public health problem.
“I want to practice dentistry on the reservation; if it works out that I can’t practice on my own [reservation], I will be happy to practice on any.”
Grey Cloud’s Research Article and Poster at NIH
Peters DE, Hoover B, Cloud LG, Liu S, Molinolo AA, Leppla SH, Bugge TH. Comparative toxicity and efficacy of engineered anthrax lethal toxin variants with broad anti-tumor activities. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2014 Sep 1;279(2):220-9. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2014.06.010. Epub 2014 Jun 24.
Grey Cloud L. Uncovering the Role of the Mannose Receptor in Bone Homeostasis. Poster 177 presented April 30, 2015 at the NIH Postbac IRTA Poster Day in Bethesda, Maryland. Preceptors: Dr. Daniel Madsen, Dr. Thomas Bugge.