Dr. Kathleen Arcaro is Professor of Environmental Toxicology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Dr. Arcaro received her Ph.D from Rutgers University and completed postdoctoral training at University at Albany & Wadsworth Laboratories, New York State Department of Health. She was awarded the CNRE Achievement Award for Outstanding Teaching.

One of the goals of environmental toxicologists is to understand the relationship between exposure to toxicants and disease. Past research in Dr. Arcaro's laboratory has focused on a heterogeneous group of environmental pollutants referred to as “endocrine disruptors.” Endocrine disruptors may mimic, block, or alter the metabolism of endogenous hormones and have been implicated in the decline of amphibian populations and the etiology of some cancers.

The research in Dr. Arcaro's laboratory is aimed at understanding the human health effects of exposure to complex mixtures of environmental pollutants with emphasis on estrogenic and antiestrogenic pollutants. There currently are three major funded projects in the lab :

  • Breast milk as a marker of exposure, effect and breast cancer risk
  • Signaling pathways in estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer
  • Bioassays for detection of endocrine disruptors in water ways

Dr. Arcaro's recent research has focused on breast cancer risk :

Using Breast Milk to Screen for Breast Cancer and Assess Breast Cancer Risk : The purpose of this study is to determine if breast cancer and breast cancer risk can be accurately assessed from a breast milk sample. Currently, there is no accurate way to give women information about their personal risk of developing breast cancer. We will use the cells naturally present in breast milk to examine changes in DNA that occur in association with benign and cancerous breast lesions. Learning about the genetic changes associated with both breast cancer and non-cancerous breast lesions will help us develop a way to provide women with information about their breast cancer risk. Using breast milk to screen for breast cancer will reduce unnecessary biopsies among nursing women.

Breast Milk and Breast Milk Cells: Biomarkers of Exposure, Effect and Genetic Susceptibility to Breast Cancer : Breast milk is an ideal human fluid for studying the relationship between exposure to pollutants and breast cancer risk because it contains lipophilic compounds implicated in the etiology of breast cancer and exfoliated breast epithelial cells. We have ongoing studies in which we are analyzing the relationship between pollutants in milk and levels of DNA damage, changes in gene expression and promoter hypermethylation in the exfoliated breast epithelial cells.

Signaling Pathways in Estrogen Receptor-Negative Breast Cancer : Estrogen receptor tumor status is an important clinical characteristic of breast cancer, which correlates with patients’ prognoses, response to hormone therapy, and overall survival. Tamoxifen, a landmark drug that acts as an anti-estrogen in the therapy of hormone-dependent breast cancers, reduces disease recurrence in patients with estrogen receptor-positive tumors, but is ineffective against estrogen receptor-negative tumors. Additionally, some tumors do not respond to tamoxifen treatment despite estrogen receptor-positive status, and some tumors that initially respond to tamoxifen eventually acquire tamoxifen-resistance resulting in a more aggressive tumor with poorer prognoses. Using a recently derived, tamoxifen-selected, estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer cell line, we have identified several genes that are differentially regulated in breast cancer. One gene, mitogen-inducible gene 2 (MIG2) is the subject of a recent publication.

Dr. Arcaro's research is aided by her colleagues Dr. Douglas Anderton, Dr. Sallie Smith, Dr. Sarah Lenington, Eva Browne, Beth Punska, and Tanya Lieberman.