News & Announcements

Kathleen Arcaro Aims to Develop New Screening for BRCA-Positive Breastfeeding Women

photo of Kathleen Arcaro

Breastfeeding women with a pathogenic BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation face a significant risk, even at a young age, of breast and ovarian cancer. Yet no fully effective breast cancer screening method exists for nursing mothers in this high-risk group, some of whom are diagnosed after the disease has spread, possibly becoming fatally metastatic.

University of Massachusetts Amherst cancer researchers hope to change that by developing a new, noninvasive test that uses women’s breast milk to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages. New mothers, and to a greater extent those with a BRCA mutation, face an increased risk of pregnancy-associated breast cancer (PABC), which is often aggressive, for about a decade postpartum. “This could eliminate the risk of metastasis-associated mortality related to postpartum, pregnancy-associated breast cancer in women with the BRCA mutation,” says lead investigator Kathleen Arcaro, professor of veterinary and animal sciences in the College of Natural Sciences, whose UMass Breastmilk Lab develops tools to assess breast cancer risk. “We also hope to better understand breast tumor development and progression in these at-risk women.”

Supported by an $718,000 grant from the Department of Defense’s Breast Cancer Research Program, Arcaro and lab colleague Brian Pentecost, UMass Amherst research associate, will conduct a national study of breastfeeding women who have tested positive for the inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. A control group of breastfeeding women with neither a BRCA mutation nor multiple close relatives with breast cancer is also being recruited. Read more

Nils Pilotte PhD Dissertation Defense

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020
2:00 PM
Life Sciences Laboratory, Room N610
Dissertation Title:  “Improved Molecular Diagnostics for Soil-Transmitted Helminths”
Advisor:  Steve Williams

Rilee Zeinert PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Rilee Zeinert

Thursday, March 19, 2020
9:30 AM
Room TBA
Dissertation Title:  
Advisor:  Peter Chien

Heather Sherman PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Heather Sherman

Monday, March 23, 2020
2:30 PM
ISB 329
Dissertation Title:  
Advisor:  Lisa Minter/Barbara Osborne

Constance Angelou PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Constance Angelou

Wednesday, March 11, 2020
9:00 AM
Morrill II, Room 222
Dissertation Title:  “Defining the let-7 microRNA-mediated molecular mechanisms regulating T cell differentiation”
Advisor:  Leonid Pobezinsky

Archit Rastogi PhD Dissertation Defense

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Monday, March 30, 2020
2:00 PM
Life Sciences Laboratory, Room N610
Dissertation Title:  "Redox Signaling in the Zebrafish Embryo and Implications for Endocrine Pancreas Morphogenesis"
Advisor:  Alicia Timme-Laragy

UMass Amherst Researchers Identify New Mechanism Involved in Promoting Breast Cancer

photo of Joe Jerry

A new approach to studying the effects of two common chemicals used in cosmetics and sunscreens found they can cause DNA damage in breast cells at surprisingly low concentrations, while the same dose did not harm cells without estrogen receptors.

The research, published Jan. 15 in Environmental Health Perspectives, identifies a new mechanism by which estrogens and xenoestrogens – environmental chemicals that act like estrogens – may promote breast cancer, says breast cancer researcher D. Joseph Jerry, professor of veterinary and animal sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Jerry also serves as science director of the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute and co-director of the Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research in a partnership between UMass Amherst and Baystate Medical Center. Read more

Kirk MacKinnon and Jacob Maman receive Lotta Crabtree Fellowships

Congratulations to Kirk MacKinnon (Hazen lab) and Jacob Maman (Ma lab), recipients of the Lotta M. Crabtree Fellowship in Production Agriculture! This award is a reflection of their hard work and academic achievement, and will support their research for the spring semester. 

Research Team Traces Evolution of the Domesticated Tomato

photo of Ana Caicedo

In a new paper, a team of evolutionary biologists and geneticists led by senior author associate professor Ana Caicedo, with first author Hamid Razifard at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and others, report that they have identified missing links in the tomato’s evolution from a wild blueberry-sized fruit in South America to the larger modern tomato of today. Details appear in an Advanced Access edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution. Read more

Foundation Supports New Work on Brain-eating Amoeba

photo of Lillian Fritz-Laylin

Evolutionary cell biologist Lillian Fritz-Laylin, biology, recently was granted a three-year, $300,000 Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research to support her research on the pathogenesis of the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri. For 28 years, the Smith Family Foundation has supported full-time faculty biomedical researchers at nonprofit academic, medical or research institutions in Massachusetts, at Brown University or at Yale University. Its mission is “to launch the careers of newly independent biomedical researchers with the ultimate goal of achieving medical breakthroughs.” Read more