Professor Stephanie Cabarcas-Petroski holds an ophthalmoscope up to a student's eye.

Biology: It's in the genes

Professor Cabarcas-Petroski uses a data to compare normal tissues to cancer tissues, making connections other researchers have either overlooked or not yet discovered.

By: April Johnston

When biology researchers take a look at the human genome, they’re typically focused on just one or two genes. Information about the other 25,000 genes they’re not looking at gets dumped into massive online databases.

And that’s where Penn State Beaver Assistant Teaching Professor of Biology Stephanie Cabarcas-Petroski finds them.

It’s a skill she picked up as a post-doctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, and one that has served her well in the years since.

Cabarcas-Petroski uses the database to compare normal tissues to cancer tissues, making connections other researchers have either overlooked or not yet discovered. She passes them along to Laura Schramm, her mentor and former professor at St. John’s University in New York, who tests the hypothesis in her lab.

The pair has published together several times, including a paper about breast cancer and the consumption of soy products.

Their partnership is one that Cabarcas-Petroski has valued since her days working in Schramm’s lab. She wanted the guidance of a young, female faculty member, and Schramm’s focus on the transcription of cancer cells interested her; her grandmother had died of cancer when she was just four years old.

Perhaps because of her relationship with Schramm, Cabarcas-Petroski is keenly aware of the way that students regard their professors. It’s one of the reasons she chose to teach at a campus where classes are small and one-on-one mentorship is possible.

“I’m able to see them making connections and to see that growth” Cabarcas-Petroski says. “It’s part of what’s so fun about being a faculty member.”