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Different Paths Lead to Doctoral Dissertation Defenses for Sarah Markt and Rebecca Graff
March 26, 2014

Different Paths Lead to Doctoral Dissertation Defenses for Sarah Markt and Rebecca Graff

Sarah Markt was a biological science major as an undergraduate, worked a couple years in Washington, D.C., and had planned to get a Masters in Public Health at George Washington University in maternal and child health. However, in her first semester, she took epidemiology and biostatistics courses and was immediately hooked on epidemiology. She switched her focus to epidemiology. Its combination of quantitative skills and understanding, and its application of biological mechanisms to study the improvement of health in a society still holds its initial alluring intrigue today.

Sarah’s doctoral dissertation defense was titled, “The Role of Circadian Rhythm on Prostate Cancer Risk and Progression.” Her dissertation’s primary aim was to investigate circadian disruption as a risk factor for prostate cancer, and particularly for risk of advanced lethal cancer, as well as explore mechanisms underlying any association. Urinary biomarker, genetic variant and questionnaire data were integrated into the research in an attempt to disentangle and quantify the contribution of different proposed pathways involving circadian genetics, melatonin and sleep on prostate cancer initiation and progression. Sarah’s work adds to the collective knowledge that melatonin suppression, sleep disruption, and circadian disruption may be important in prostate tumorigenesis and provides further support for the influence of the circadian system in prostate carcinogenesis.

Rebecca Graff earned her B. A. in Statistics from the University of California in Berkeley and worked as a market researcher for a couple of years before discovering epidemiology, where she felt the application of statistical analysis would be more interesting and rewarding. Her inclination has proven true.

Rebecca’s doctoral dissertation title was, “Molecular Subclassification of Prostate Cancer: The Epidemiology of TMPRSS2:ERG.” TMPRSS2:ERG is a recurrent gene fusion that is specific to prostate carcinomas and roughly half of prostate tumors harbor TMPRSS2:ERG with prevalence differing as a function of race and ethnicity. Rebecca’s research goal was to help elucidate the extent of the importance of this gene fusion via three separate studies. The studies leveraged lifestyle, biomarker, and treatment data to address the importance of the fusion across the pathogenesis of disease initiation and promotion, progression and response to therapy. As a result, her research contributed novel and timely data to improve upon the collective understanding of the TMPRSS2:ERG fusion in prostate cancer.

Sarah and Rebecca agree that it takes a village to reach a milestone such as theirs. They have heartfelt appreciation for the unwavering support from family, friends, Dr. Mucci, their committees, members of their prostate cancer epidemiology group, and fellow doctoral students.

Congratulations Sarah and Rebecca.