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IU cancer researcher receives $450,000 Komen research grant


INDIANAPOLIS – An Indiana University cancer researcher has been awarded a $450,000 research grant from Susan G. Komen to identify epigenetic markers that drive breast cancer development.

Chunyan He, Sc.D., associate professor of epidemiology at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, is a recipient of a Career Catalyst Research Grant from the Komen organization.

Dr. He will focus on epigenetics, the study of how age and exposure to environmental factors may cause changes in the way genes are switched on and off without changing the actual DNA sequence.

“Findings from this project will identify for the first time genetic and environmental factors that impact epigenetics in normal breast tissue and identify causal changes that drive breast cancer development,” Dr. He, a genetic epidemiologist, said.

But identifying such changes is a challenge.

“Most research in this area cannot distinguish the epigenetic markers that cause breast cancer from those that are the consequences of the disease,” Dr. He explained.

Because of that, Dr. He will tap into resources at the Komen Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center – the only repository of normal breast tissue samples — for this study.

“Use of normal breast tissue from the Komen Tissue Bank will allow us to find novel epigenetic markers that cause cancer development,” she said. “The project will investigate how epigenetic markers are altered in normal breast cells by genetic susceptibility factors (mutations in DNA sequence) versus environmental risk factors such as reproductive history, lifestyle, and dietary factors. If science can fully understand what to look for, then effective therapies can be developed in response.”