Summer Fellow, Caroline Dyar, looks to uncover genetic patterns that make breast cancer cells aggressive

Summer Fellow, Caroline Dyar, looks to uncover genetic patterns that make breast cancer cells aggressive


Caroline Dyar, a junior double major in applied mathematics and economics from Marietta, Ga., is working with Dr. Austin Shull, assistant professor of biology, to conduct a multivariate comparison of DNA methylation events between different types of breast cancer.

“My family has been directly affected by breast cancer,” Dyar said. “I am honored to be a part of a research team that is looking into ways to better treat this type of cancer.”

In her research, Dyar is using statistical programming languages like R and Matlab to analyze approximately 8 million DNA methylation events in a panel of breast cancer cells with varying levels of aggressiveness.

“DNA methylation are specific modifications in a genome used in telling a great deal about the characteristics of a cell; specifically in our case, cancer cells,” Dyar said. “We will determine whether a pattern exists between specific DNA methylation events and the physical capability of certain breast cancers to aggressively spread.

“We hope that this research will be useful to physicians in how they treat breast cancer based on the composition of a patient’s cancer: primarily by determining whether the cancer should be identified as aggressive earlier in diagnosis rather than later,” Dyar added.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity collaborating with an applied mathematics student like Caroline on a cancer biology project that greatly benefits from her developing expertise in statistical analysis,” Shull said. “Our world is continually being impacted by the ‘big data’ revolution, and it is important that we encourage and train students who can analyze seemingly confusing data and provide meaningful insights that could be used in making important decisions within our society, including how best to treat certain types of cancer.”

Dyar is involved in Greek life on campus, is a member of the Mathematical Association of American and Pi Mu Epsilon, the College’s math honor society. She also serves as a resident assistant, a math tutor and as a teaching assistant with the biology department for freshman biology labs.

The PC Summer Fellows Program is designed to enhance the academic experience of PC students by providing them with opportunities to work with faculty during the summer. The program is intended for motivated students to gain research experience with direct faculty mentoring. Students experience the process of research as a creative intellectual activity in a living-learning environment.



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