Theresa Swift-Scanlan Awarded Two Grants For Epigenetics Research

Theresa Swift-Scanlan, PhD, MS, RN, has been awarded new funding for her research on the impact of molecular and environmental changes on breast cancer. She received a $7,500 UNC Faculty Research Award and the $7,500 Barbara Senich Genomics Innovation Endowment award.

The Faculty Research Award will fund a follow-up gene expression study based on previous research in which Dr. Swift-Scanlan showed that methylated genes were associated with two breast cancer subtypes that have a poor prognosis. Methylation is one of several biochemical “epigenetic” reactions that alter DNA. This reaction can affect how genes are expressed in cells, and under certain conditions, can cause cells to become cancerous. Dr. Swift-Scanlan will investigate methylated genes that are associated with “basal-like” tumors. Currently, basal-like breast cancer has the lowest survival rate and disproportionately affects African American women. Dr. Swift-Scanlan’s research could lead to new therapeutic opportunities for people who develop this form of breast cancer.

Dr. Swift-Scanlan plans to use the Barbara Senich Genomics Innovation Endowment award to confirm whether differently methylated genes she identified in a previous study can be used as markers to predict if women with certain types of breast cancer survive or experience recurrence. Her study will include 50 women recruited from the Carolina Breast Cancer Study. Dr. Swift-Scanlan’s research could lead to novel treatments that potentially reverse these epigenetic changes through pharmacological or behavioral interventions. Her results could also help health care providers better identify which people are most vulnerable to breast cancer through genetic testing.

The endowment fund was generously started in 2008 by alumna and SON Foundation board member Ms. Barbara Ann Senich, BSN ’79 to support genomics education and research at the SON. The annual Nursing in the Genomics Era Conference organized by Professor Marcia Van Riper is also supported by this fund. “Dr. Swift-Scanlan’s work is impressive on all counts,” said Ms. Senich. “The cross-functional/multi-disciplinary approach she is quarterbacking is clearly the best way to drive results.”