16 U A B C O M P R E H E N S I V E C A N C E R C E N T E R

I always loved math and science. I initially thought of becoming a doctor, a math teacher and even a physi- cal therapist, she says. I eventually settled on research because I loved biology and chemistry and knew that a research path could coexist with my family life.

After completing her requirements at community college, Dr. Skibola was admitted to the University of California-Berkeley s College of Natural Resources to study nutritional science. By the time she was completing her graduate work, her daughters had become her class- mates. Sometimes the three of us would meet for lunch on campus, she recalls. It was pretty cool. Dr. Skibola eventually received all three of her degrees from the uni- versity: a bachelor s degree in nutrition and a master s and Ph.D. both in environmental health sciences.

Dr. Skibola remained at UC-Berkeley for much of her following career, eventually serving as an adjunct professor in the school s Department of Environmental Health Sciences. She won several awards while there, including the UC-Berkeley Margaret Beatty Award for Excellence in Research in 2001. While her research had flourished on the West Coast, the South would soon present a new opportunity for her career to grow. Moving South

Dr. Skibola s research primarily focuses on popula- tion studies to identify the way genetic variation and environmental exposures contribute to the development of human lymphomas and leukemias, and determining the mechanisms involved. Being a molecular epide- miologist, her work involves looking for biomarkers of diseases and applying those genetic abnormalities and patterns to broader populations. It was this work that caught the attention of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, which began recruiting her to Birmingham.

I knew nothing about Birmingham, and I had never been to the South before, except for Florida, Dr. Skibola says. I didn t know what to expect, but the facilities here were incredible, and the faculty were working in areas

that were of great interest to me. It looked like it would be an exciting environment to work in.

Dr. Skibola joined the UAB faculty in November 2012 as a professor in the Department of Epidemiology, where she holds the Caldwell Marks Endowed Chair in Molecular Epidemiology. She has quickly risen in the Cancer Center s leadership ranks, serving as a senior scientist and having recently been appointed as co-leader of the center s Cancer Control and Population Sciences research program.

The Cancer Center has long been recognized as a leader for its work in community outreach and cancer population studies. That reputation and the resources available at UAB has been a boon to Dr. Skibola s research.

We have access to a large amount of biological specimens here, which I ve not had access to before, she says. That gives me the chance to investigate vari- ous molecular markers possibly related to different types of cancers or the progression of cancer. Doing studies such as these is great here because of the enor- mous opportunities for collaborations with high-caliber scientists, as well as access to the core facilities of the Cancer Center and the expertise related to those. This has enabled me to expand my areas of research.

One of Dr. Skibola s primary interests is diet and how it influences disease outcomes. She recently received a pilot P01 grant from the Cancer Center to study how certain dietary or supplemental compounds, such as in green tea, soy or certain vegetables, can influence treatment outcomes and side effects among breast cancer patients.

When people are diagnosed with cancer, they often take supplements because they want to improve their chances of survival, Dr. Skibola says. But we really don t know how this affects patients outcomes. Certain food compounds and supplements may be beneficial or may interfere with a patient s therapy. These are impor- tant areas that need to be investigated.

I didn t know

what to expect,

but the facilities

here were

incredible, and

the faculty

were working

in areas that

were of great

interest to me.

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