Barbara Stefanska

Barbara Stefanska Profile Picture

Assistant Professor
M.S. (Public Health, Medical University of Lodz, Poland, 2003); PhD (Biomedical Sciences - Nutritional Epigenetics, Medical University of Lodz, Poland, 2007); Post-Doc (Cancer Epigenetics, McGill University, Canada, 2013)

Contact Info:
(765) 494-4401

Training Group(s):
Chromatin and Regulation of Gene Expression

PULSe Contributor - not currently hosting students for laboratory rotations or recruiting students in the laboratory

Current Research Interests:

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) Understanding the epigenetic mechanisms of dietary polyphenols such as resveratrol from grapes, pterostilbene from blueberries, epigallocatechin gallate from green tea, in cancer prevention and therapy. 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, and breast cancer to study epigenetic mechanisms of polyphenols’ action. 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 anti-cancer therapeutics. (2) Identifying and validating epigenetic biomarkers for solid tumors including liver and breast cancers. Our project on discovery of liver cancer risk biomarkers in blood DNA has been recently approved by the Cohort Consortium (NCI), which gives us access to various cohorts in the world.  Cancer biomarkers are valuable for risk prediction, early detection, prognosis, and assessing responses to therapy. My lab is evaluating DNA methylation profiles as potential cancer biomarkers. In order to increase clinical applications, we examine blood samples as easily accessible source of DNA. Our focus is to delineate genome-wide methylation patterns in blood samples collected before diagnosis (risk predictors) and at different stages of cancer (early detection and prognostic). By coupling this information to clinical data and responsiveness to treatment regimens, we can evaluate these patterns as candidate biomarkers. Once we have identified and validated epigenetic biomarkers, we will explore the relationship between polyphenol intake and cancer incidence in prospective cohort studies.

Please find more information at:

Selected Publications:

Stefanska B, Cheishvili D, Suderman M, Arakelian A, Huang J, Hallett M, Han ZG, Al-Mahtab M, Akbar SMF, Khan WA, Raqib R, Tanvir I, Khan HA, Rabbani SA, Szyf M. Genome-wide study of hypomethylated and induced genes in liver cancer patients unravels novel anticancer targets. Clin Cancer Res 2014, 20:3118-3132. PMID:24727328

Lubecka-Pietruszewska K, Kaufman-Szymczyk A, Stefanska B, Cebula-Obrzut B, Smolewski P, Fabianowska-Majewska K. Clofarabine, a novel adenosine analogue, reactivates DNA methylation-silenced tumour suppressor genes and inhibits cell growth in breast cancer cells. Eur J Pharmacol 2014, 723: 276-287. PMID:20447390

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. PMID:23955541 

Stefanska B, Bouzelmat A, Huang J, Suderman M, Hallett M, Han ZG, Al-Mahtab M, Akbar MF, Raqib R, Szyf M. Discovery and validation of DNA hypomethylation biomarkers for liver cancer using HRM-specific probes. PLoS One 2013, Aug 7;8(8):e68439. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0068439. PMCID3737236.

Lubecka-Pietruszewska K, Kaufman-Szymczyk A, Stefanska B, Fabianowska-Majewska K. Folic acid enforces DNA methylation-mediated transcriptional silencing of PTEN, APC and RARbeta2 tumour suppressor genes in breast cancer. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 2013; 430: 623-628. PMID:23219837

Stefanska B, Karlic H, Varga F, Fabianowska-Majewska K, Haslberger AG. Epigenetic mechanisms in anti-cancer actions of bioactive food components – the implications in cancer prevention. Br J Pharmacol 2012; 167: 279-297. PMCID:3481038

Stefanska B, Salamé P, Bednarek A, Fabianowska-Majewska K. 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 2012; 107: 781-790. PMID:21801466

Stefanska B. Curcumin ameliorates hepatic fibrogenesis in type 2 diabetes mellitus- insights into its mechanisms of action. Br J Pharmacol 2012; 166: 2209-2211. PMCID3448887

Stefanska B, Vinken M, Szyf M. Epigenetics in toxicology: the implications of epigenetic alterations driven by external exposures for human health. ALTEX Proceedings, 8th World Congress, 2012; 1: 173-185.

Stefanska B, Huang J, Bhattacharyya B, Suderman M, Hallet M, Han ZG, Szyf M. Definition of the landscape of promoter DNA hypomethylation in liver cancer. Cancer Res 2011; 71: 5891-5903. PMID:21747116

Stefanska B, Rudnicka K, Bednarek A, Fabianowska-Majewska K. 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 2010; 638: 47-53. PMID:20447390

Stefanska BM, Fabianowska-Majewska K. Effects of dietary natural compounds on DNA methylation related to cancer chemoprevention and anticancer epigenetic therapy. Chapter 11, p. 141-155. Haslberger A (ed.), Gressler S (co-ed.). 2010, Epigenetics and Human Health. Linking hereditary, environmental and nutritional aspects. WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co.KgaA, Weinheim.

Gach K, Piestrzeniewicz M, Fichna J, Stefanska B, Szemraj J, Janecka A. Opioid-induced regulation of mu-opioid receptor gene expression in the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line. Biochem Cell Biol 2008; 86: 217-226. PMID:18523482

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