Biomarkers, Diagnostics & Risk Assessment
The members curate extensive tissue and patient resources with an emphasis on breast cancer. The Breast Milk Project (Arcaro) has evaluated the epigenetic status of breast epithelial cells as well as the prevalence of environmental contaminants in the milk to assess exposures and subsequent risk. The epigenetic landscape is also analyzed to provide biomarkers of environmental exposures (Pilsner, Vandenberg) and clinical outcomes such as Tamoxifen resistance (Arcaro, Otis).
Surgical specimens are collected and curated at the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute in collaboration with clinicians at Baystate Medical Center. As part of the Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research, ~100 patients are consented annually to the Breast Research Registry providing extensive lifestyle and clinical data as well as primary tissues. This provides a repository of viable primary breast tissues representing the spectrum of patients seen in clinical practice.
The Schneider laboratory has established procedures to readily expand primary cultures of breast epithelium for in vitro studies and transplantation into rodent models. The Dunphy laboratory is examining the responses to estrogenic compounds in primary explant cultures that preserve both the stromal and epithelial components that are found in situ. Strategies for improved detection are being developed that have sensitivity for lesions as small as 0.043 mm3 (Forbes), which is more than 1000 times smaller than current tomographic methods.
Epidemiologists (Bigelow, Hankinson, Reeves, Sturgeon) are using biometric data such as breast density, DNA methylation, metabolites in urine and hormones, along with epigenetic biomarkers to improve models predicting breast cancer risk. Molecular signatures of risk are also being used to define subsets of premalignant breast lesions that are most likely to progress (Crisi, Jerry, Makari-Judson). The roles of Wnt and TGFβ in premalignancy are also being examined in mouse models (Dunphy, Gregory).
Behaviorial studies are also supported through participation with faculty from the College of Nursing, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences and School of Public Health.