UMass Breastmilk Lab

Meet the key researchers for our BRCA Breastmilk research project

Kathleen Arcaro, PhD

Project role: Project director for the BRCA project

Professional affiliation:  Professor, Umass Amherst

Profile link:

Research Interests:

A major goal of the research in the Arcaro lab is to develop tools for assessing individual breast cancer risk. To this end, we study breastmilk.  Human milk contains multiple cell types, including epithelial cells from the lining of the ducts and lobules. Because cancer-related DNA methylation may occur decades before disease diagnosis, we are interested in determining the extent to which DNA methylation patterns in the sloughed epithelial cells can inform future breast cancer risk.  Accurately assessing individual risk would provide women the opportunity to make informed decisions regarding preventative treatments.


Lindiwe Sibeko, PhD, IBCLC

Project role: Outreach consultant to the BRCA project

Professional affiliation:  Associate Professor, Umass Amherst

Profile link:

Research Interests:  My research interests are strongly influenced by my professional background in dietetics, lactation care/management and community health programming for at-risk women and children, coupled with community-engaged research in the area of breastfeeding and human milk. I use a life-course framework that integrates research, education and extension outreach to improve health outcomes among women and children vulnerable to health disparities.

Brian Pentecost, PhD

Project role: Co-investigator for the BRCA project

Professional affiliation:  Research Professor UMass. Retired from NY DoH Wadsworth Ctr, SUNYA School of Public Health.

Profile link:  Online CV for Brian Pentecost in the UMass BRCA breastmilk project   

Research Interests: My career focus has been gene regulation and expression in relation to estrogen action in both the reproductive tract and in breast cancer. For the past decade, my principal role within NYS DoH was the review of germline genetic tests submitted by external clinical labs with a recent focus on NGS-based submissions. In many ways I’ve become a generalist and one benefit was the realization that a growing population of reproductive age women was aware of their BRCA status, had an unmet screening need during lactation and that we could reach these women directly.

Heidi Leftwich, DO

Project role: Outreach to patients and the medical community

Professional affiliation:

Profile link:

Research Interests:  Dr. Heidi Leftwich is an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and is double board certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and Maternal-Fetal Medicine.  She has served as the Associate Fellowship Director for the Maternal-Fetal Medicine fellowship at UMASS for the last 2 years.  She is a physician scientist who has contributed to multiple peer reviewed abstracts and manuscripts with a significant interest in placental insufficiency, preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction.  In addition, she is the PI of the COVID-19 Analysis on Perinatal Specimens Related to Exposure (CARES) Study, which is prospective study of pregnant women infected with SARS-CoV-2 during their pregnancy.  This study has included lactating women and the assessment of their colostrum and breast milk after delivery.


 Katrina Mitchell, MD, IBCLC

Breast surgeon katrina mitchellProject role: Outreach to breast surgeons and lactation consultants

Professional affiliation: Breast surgical oncologist and lactation consultant, Ridley Tree Cancer Center at Sansum Clinic (Santa Barbara, CA)

Profile link:

Research Interests: I am a breast surgeon and lactation consultant with clinical, educational, and research interests that include the maternal complications of breastfeeding, as well as intersection of lactation and breast cancer.  I am honored to be a part of the fascinating work being done in the Arcaro lab and look forward to continued collaboration.


Shannon Tierney, MS, MD, FACS

Shannon Tierney MD breast surgeonProject role: Outreach to breast surgeons and the medical community

Professional affiliation:

Profile link:

Research Interests: minimally invasive breast surgery, oncoplastics, and the effects of lactation on breast cancer risk.

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