Barbara Stefanska

Assistant Professor
Department of Nutrition Science (NUTR)

Contact Information

Office STON G1J (Lab: HANS 109, 201 S. University Street)
Address 700 W. State Street
West Lafayette, IN 47907
Phone 765.494.4401
Fax 765.494.0906
Web Site

Educational Background

  • MS, Public Health at Medical University of Lodz, Poland in 2003
  • PhD, Biomedical Sciences - Nutritional Epigenetics at Medical University of Lodz, Poland in 2007
  • Post-Doc, Cancer Epigenetics at McGill University, Montreal, Canada in 2013

Awards & Honors

  • Invited Speaker, Mead Johnson Pediatric Nutrition Institute Scientific Lecture Series. Epigenomics: a new bridge between environmental exposures in prenatal/early life and disease onset later in life, 2014
  • Principal's Award for Research Excellence from Medical University of Lodz, Poland, 2013
  • Invited speaker at IUNS 20th International Congress of Nutrition, Spain. Parallel Symposium: Public health genomics in individualized nutrition, 2013
  • McGill MedStar Award for Research Excellence from Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, 2012
  • Principal's Award for Research Excellence from Medical University of Lodz, Poland, 2010
  • Principal's Award for Outstanding PhD thesis from Medical University of Lodz, Poland, 2008
  • Young Investigator Award from European Society for the Study of Purine and Pyrimidine Metabolism in Man, 2005
  • Award for Best Poster at Gliwice Scientific Meetings, Poland, 2005
  • Best University Diploma from Faculty of Health Sciences, Medical University of Lodz, Poland, 2003

Activities & Memberships

  • Research Advisory Council (Member), from McGill University, 2010 - 2011
  • Member (Fellow), from American Society of Human Genetics, 2011 - Present
  • Member (Fellow), from British Pharmacological Society, 2011 - Present
  • Editorial Board of British Journal of Pharmacology (Editor), from British Pharmacological Society, 2011 - Present
  • Member (Fellow), from American Association for Cancer Research, 2009 - Present
  • Member (Fellow), from Polish Biochemical Society, 2006 - Present


Epigenetics refers to the molecular events controlling gene expression that are independent of changes in the underlying DNA sequence. These events include DNA methylation, covalent histone modifications, and non-coding RNA-related mechanisms. Epigenetic modifications of DNA (DNA methylation) have been shown to contribute to the etiology of chronic diseases with cancer at the forefront. DNA methylation is dynamic and serves as an adaptive mechanism to a wide variety of environmental factors including diet. My laboratory is focused on two major areas:

(1) Epigenetic mechanisms mediating the beneficial effects of vitamins and polyphenols in cancer prevention, cancer therapy, and type 2 diabetes.
A number of studies suggest that bioactive compounds present in food and herbs can modulate gene expression by targeting different elements of the epigenetic machinery, especially DNA methylation. The fundamental question driving my research is whether natural compounds can differentially affect DNA methylation states to activate tumor suppressor genes and silence cancer-driving genes. My lab uses genome-wide approaches in cell and animal models of liver, breast, and ovarian cancer to study epigenetic actions of vitamins and polyphenols. Our goal is to determine whether and how these natural compounds reverse epigenetic patterns associated with carcinogenesis to establish their potential preventive role in cancer. We are also exploring if epigenetic mechanisms regulated by bioactives can sensitize cancer cells to traditional chemotherapies. Furthermore, we are exploring diet effects and underlying mechanisms in type 2 diabetes as one of the major risk factors for liver cancer.

(2) Identifying and validating epigenetic biomarkers for solid tumors including liver, breast, and ovarian cancers.
Cancer biomarkers are valuable for risk prediction, early detection, prognosis, and assessing responses to therapy. My lab is testing whether DNA methylation profiles can be used as cancer biomarkers. For this, we examine global methylation patterns in tissue specimens at different stages of cancer. By coupling this information to the analysis of clinical data and responsiveness to treatment regimens, we can evaluate these patterns as candidate biomarkers. In order to increase the clinical applications of diagnostic biomarkers, we are also examining methylation patterns in easily accessible sources of DNA such as blood cells. Once we have identified and validated epigenetic biomarkers, we will explore the relationship between vitamins or polyphenol intake with cancer incidence in prospective cohort studies.

Discovery Publications

  • Lubecka-Pietruszewska K, Kaufman-Szymczyk A, Stefanska B, Cebula-Obrzut B, Smolewski P, Fabianowska-Majewska K. (2013) Clofarabine, a novel adenosine analogue, reactivates DNA methylation-silenced tumour suppressor genes and inhibits cell growth in breast cancer cells. Eur J Pharmacol. 723:276-287.
  • Stefanska B, Suderman M, Machnes Z, Bhattacharyya B, Hallet M, Szyf M. (2013) Transcription onset of genes critical in liver carcinogenesis and metastasis is epigenetically regulated by methylated DNA binding protein MBD2. Carcinogenesis. 34:2738-2749.
  • Stefanska, B., Bouzemat, A., Huang, J., Suderman, M., Hallett, M., Han, Z.G., Al-Mahtab, M., Akbar, M.F., Raqib, R., Szyf, M. (2013) Discovery and validation of DNA hypomethylation biomarkers for liver cancer using HRM-specific probes. PLoS One. 7(8):e68439. doi: 10.1371.journal.pone.0068439.
  • Lubecka-Pietruszewska, K., Kaufman-Szymczyk, A., Stefanska, B., Fabianowska-Majewska, K. (2013) Folic acid enforces DNA methylation-mediated transcriptional silencing of PTEN, APC, and RARbeta2 tumour suppressor genes in breast cancer. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 430:623-28. Other Information.
  • Stefanska, B., Salamé, P., Bednarek, A., Fabianowska-Majewska, K. (2012) Comparative effects of retinoic acid, vitamin D and resveratrol alone and in combination with adenosine analogues on methylation and expression of PTEN tumour suppressor gene in breast cancer cells. Brit J Nutr. 107:781-790. Other Information.
  • Stefanska B, Karlic H, Varga F, Fabianowska-Majewska K, Haslberger AG. (2012) Epigenetic mechanisms in anti-cancer actions of bioactive food components – the implications in cancer prevention. Br J Pharmacol. 167:279-297.
  • Stefanska B, Vinken M, Szyf M. (2012) Epigenetics in toxicology: the implications of epigenetic alterations driven by external exposures for human health. ALTEX Proceedings, 8th World Congress. 1:173-185.
  • Stefanska B. (2012) Curcumin ameliorates hepatic fibrogenesis in type 2 diabetes mellitus- insights into its mechanisms of action. Br J Pharmacol. 166:2209-2211.
  • Stefanska, B., Huang, J., Bhattacharyya, B., Suderman, M., Hallet, M., Han, Z.G., Szyf, M. (2011) Definition of the landscape of promoter DNA hypomethylation in liver cancer. Cancer Res. 71:5891-5903. Other Information.
  • Stefanska, B., Rudnicka, K., Bednarek, A., Fabianowska-Majewska, K. (2010) Hypomethylation and induction of retinoic acid receptor beta 2 (RARbeta2) gene by concurrent action of adenosine analogues and natural compounds in breast cancer cells. Eur J Pharmacol. 638:47-53. Other Information.
  • Gach, K., Piestrzeniewicz, M., Fichna, J., Stefanska, B., Szemraj, J., Janecka, A. (2008) Opioid-induced regulation of mu-opioid receptor gene expression in the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line. Biochem Cell Biol. 86:217-226. Other Information.

Books, Chapters & Monograph Publications

  • Stefanska, B.M., Fabianowska-Majewska, K. (2010) Effects of dietary natural compounds on DNA methylation related to cancer chemoprevention and anticancer epigenetic therapy. In: Epigenetics and Human Health. Linking hereditary, environmental and nutritional aspects. Haslberger, A and Gressler, S. Ed(s). Ch.11. Pp.141-155. WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH &Co., KgaA, Weinheim. Other Information.


NUTR330Diet Selection and Planning
NUTR365Life Cycle Nutrition
NUTR424Communication Techniques in Foods and Nutrition
NUTR634Nutrition and Cancer Prevention

International Programs & Activities

International Breast Cancer and Nutrition Program (IBCN project), (led by Dr. Sophie Lelièvre and Dr. Connie Weaver, Purdue University)

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