Seton Hill Alumna at Forefront of Groundbreaking Cancer Research

November 18, 2013
Author: Jennifer Reeger
Groundbreaking research into how temperature can influence the growth of tumors in laboratory mice conducted by Seton Hill University alumna Elizabeth A. Repasky, Ph.D., and her colleagues at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute will be published in this week’s edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Repasky’s research deals with how the standard cool temperature at which laboratory mice are housed in most research facilities might skew the results of cancer immunology studies.

The study indicates that mice naturally seek warm nesting environments to minimize their energy expenditure and healthy mice are known to prefer ambient temperatures of 30 to 31 °C. Yet laboratory mice are typically housed within a temperature range of 20 to 26 °C, partly to reduce the need for cage cleaning and increase technicians’ thermal comfort.

Repasky and her colleagues compared tumor formation, growth rate and metastasis in mice housed at either 22 to 23 °C or at 30 to 31 °C in order to determine whether the temperature discrepancy might influence disease course.

The authors report that four different kinds of transplanted tumors grew slower in mice housed at 30 °C than in mice housed at 22 °C, even though both groups of mice maintained normal body temperature. Anti-tumor immunity was stronger at 30 °C. Because cold stress can divert energy toward heat production and suppress anti-cancer immune responses, ambient temperature might influence the response of laboratory mice to experimental cancer immunotherapy, the study suggests.

Repasky graduated in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Seton Hill and earned a Ph.D. in Anatomy and Cell Biology at the State University at Buffalo and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Cell/Molecular Biology at the California Institute of Technology. In 1996, Repasky received the Seton Hill Distinguished Alumni Leadership Award.

“Elizabeth was extremely gifted in research and possessed great passion for research,” said Sister Ann Infanger, S.C., Professor Emerita of Biology at Seton Hill, who taught Repasky. “Actually she went on a summer program at Roswell Park as a student and decided to spend her senior year there to complete her education. She is truly talented and unselfishly devoted to research.”

Infanger said Repasky’s study will be important to cancer research across the board.

“She has made a significant discovery that will certainly influence the interpretation of a lot of research,” Infanger said.

Currently, Repasky is the Dr. William Huebsch Professor of Immunology at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., and is co-leader of the Institute’s Cell Stress and Biophysical Therapies CCSG Program.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) is America's first cancer center founded in 1898 by Dr. Roswell Park. His revolutionary model of a “multidisciplinary approach” to cancer — with scientists and clinicians working in concert and in consult — has become the standard by which all modern-day comprehensive cancer centers are measured.