Assistant Professor, Food, Nutrition and Health
phone: 6048222524
FNH 248
2205 East Mall
Vancovuer, BC V6T 1Z4


McGill University, 2013, Post-Doc, Cancer Epigenetics
Medical University of Lodz, Poland, 2008, PhD, Biomedical Sciences (Nutritional Epigenetics)
Medical University of Lodz, Poland, 2003, MPH, Public Health


Epigenetics refers to the molecular events controlling gene expression that are independent of changes in the underlying DNA sequence. These events include DNA methylation, covalent histone modifications, and non-coding RNA-related mechanisms. Epigenetic modifications of DNA, namely DNA methylation, have been shown to contribute to the etiology of chronic diseases with cancer at the forefront. DNA methylation is dynamic and serves as an adaptive mechanism to a wide variety of environmental factors including diet.

My laboratory is focused on addressing the following scientific questions:

1) Do dietary bioactive compounds act through epigenetic mechanisms to prevent cancer and exert beneficial effects in adjuvant therapy?

Our hypothesis is that dietary polyphenols (e.g., resveratrol, pterostilbene, piceatannol, and coffee polyphenols) impact DNA methylation patterns and thereby gene transcription via modulation of expression and activity of epigenetic enzymes such as TETs and DNMTs. Changes in these enzymes, alter the occupancy of specific protein complexes in gene regulatory regions which determines chromatin structure and as a result gene transcription. Through this mode of action, polyphenols reverse cancer-specific patterns of DNA methylation; they lead to the activation of methylation-silenced tumour suppressor genes and concomitant suppression of demethylation-activated oncogenes and prometastatic genes. We are also exploring if epigenetic mechanisms regulated by polyphenols can sensitize cancer cells to traditional anti-cancer therapeutics.

2) Do dietary bioactive compounds reverse epigenetic aberrations underlying initiation of inflammation and inflammation-driven cancer?

Existing evidence suggests that at sites of inflammation the release of reactive oxygen species causes DNA damage that induces re-localization of epigenetic proteins and results in DNA methylation changes of associated genes during tumorigenesis. We hypothesize that bioactive compounds can prevent cancer development by targeting those changes in the DNA methylation patterns.

3) Do changes in epigenetic marks reflect exposure to bioactive compounds and constitute tools of cancer risk prediction and early detection?

We hypothesize that exposure to dietary polyphenols may leave stable marks in human body by inducing changes in DNA methylation patterns. Such molecular markers in easily accessible specimens are needed and should reflect long-term exposures. This will deliver quantitative tools for measuring the intake of bioactive food components in clinical and epidemiological studies.

Please find more information at:

Graduate Students

Megan Beetch, PhD program in Human Nutrition


FNH 351: Vitamins, Minerals, and Health

FNH 477: Nutrition and Disease Prevention

Selected Publications

See Google Scholar for a complete list of publications.

Devarshi PP, Jones AD, Taylor EM, Stefanska B, Henagan TM. Quercetin and quercetin-rich red onion extract alter Pgc1α promoter methylation and splice 6 variant expression. PPAR Res 2017; 2017:3235693. (PMID: 28191013)

Stefanska B, MacEwan DJ. Epigenetics and gene expression in cancer, inflammatory and immune diseases. Methods in Pharmacology and Toxicology book series, Springer, January 2017 (Editor).

Choudhury SR, Cui Y, Lubecka K, Stefanska B*, Irudayaraj J*. CRISPR-dCas9 mediated TET1 targeting for selective DNA demethylation at BRCA1 promoter. Oncotarget 2016; 7: 46545-46556 (*co-senior authorship). (PMID: 27356740)

Lubecka K, Kurzava L, Flower K, Buvala H, Zhang H, Teegarden D, Camarillo I, Suderman M, Kuang S, Andrisani O, Flanagan JM, Stefanska B. Stilbenoids remodel the DNA methylation patterns in breast cancer cells and inhibit oncogenic NOTCH signaling through epigenetic regulation of MAML2 transcriptional activity. Carcinogenesis 2016; 37: 656-668 (senior author).

Cheishvili D*, Stefanska B*, Yi C, Li CC, Yu P, Arakelian A, Tanvir I, Khan HA, Rabbani SA, Szyf M. A common promoter hypomethylation signature in invasive breast, liver and prostate cancer cell lines reveals novel targets involved in cancer invasiveness. Oncotarget 2015; 6: 33253-33268. (*equal contribution)

Lubecka-Pietruszewska K, Kaufman-Szymczyk A, Stefanska B, Cebula-Obrzut B, Smolewski P, Fabianowska-Majewska K. Sulforaphane alone and in combination with clofarabine epigenetically regulates expression of DNA methylation-silenced tumour suppressor genes in human breast cancer cells. J Nutrigenet Nutrigenomics 2015; 8: 91-101.

Remely M, Stefanska B, Lovrecic L, Magnet U, Haslberger AG. Nutriepigenomics: the role of nutrition in epigenetic control of human diseases. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2015; 18: 328-333. (PMID: 26001651)

Stefanska B, MacEwan DJ. Epigenetics and pharmacology. Br J Pharmacol 2015; 172: 2701-2704. (PMID: 25966315)

Shukeir N*, Stefanska B*, Parashar S, Chik F, Arakelian A, Szyf M, Rabbani SA. Pharmacological methyl group donors block skeletal metastasis in vitro and in vivo. Br J Pharmacol 2015; 172: 2769-2781 (*equal contribution).

Henagan TM, Stefanska B, Fang Z, Navard AM, Ye J, Lenard NR, Devarshi PP. Sodium butyrate epigenetically modulates high fat diet-induced skeletal muscle mitochondrial adaptation, obesity and insulin resistance through nucleosome positioning. Br J Pharmacol 2015; 172: 2782-2798.

Stefanska B, Cheishvili D, Suderman M, Arakelian A, Huang J, Hallett M, Han ZG, Al-Mahtab M, Akbar SMF, Khan WA, Raqib R, Tanvir I, Khan HA, Rabbani SA, Szyf M. Genome-wide study of hypomethylated and induced genes in liver cancer patients unravels novel anticancer targets. Clin Cancer Res 2014; 20: 3118-3132.

Lubecka-Pietruszewska K, Kaufman-Szymczyk A, Stefanska B, Cebula-Obrzut B, Smolewski P, Fabianowska-Majewska K. Clofarabine, a novel adenosine analogue, reactivates DNA methylation-silenced tumour suppressor genes and inhibits cell growth in breast cancer cells. Eur J Pharmacol 2014; 723: 276-87.

Stefanska B, Suderman M, Machnes Z, Bhattacharyya B, Hallet M, Szyf M. Transcription onset of genes critical in liver carcinogenesis and metastasis is epigenetically regulated by methylated DNA binding protein MBD2. Carcinogenesis 2013; 34: 2738-2749.

Stefanska B, Bouzelmat A, Huang J, Suderman M, Hallett M, Han ZG, Al-Mahtab M, Akbar MF, Raqib R, Szyf M. Discovery and validation of DNA hypomethylation biomarkers for liver cancer using HRM-specific probes. PLoS One 2013; 8: e68439.

Stefanska B, Karlic H, Varga F, Fabianowska-Majewska K, Haslberger AG. Epigenetic mechanisms in anti-cancer actions of bioactive food components – the implications in cancer prevention. Br J Pharmacol 2012; 167: 279-297. (PMID: 22536923)

Stefanska B, Salamé P, Bednarek A, Fabianowska-Majewska K. Comparative effects of retinoic acid, vitamin D and resveratrol alone and in combination with adenosine analogues on methylation and expression of PTEN tumour suppressor gene in breast cancer cells. Brit J Nutr 2012; 107: 781-790.

Stefanska B, Huang J, Bhattacharyya B, Suderman M, Hallet M, Han ZG, Szyf M. Definition of the landscape of promoter DNA hypomethylation in liver cancer. Cancer Res 2011; 71: 5891-5903.

Awards & Honours

Best Presentation Award, 18th International Conference on Human Genetics and Genomics , 2016
Invited Speaker, Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology (IRDB)/Oncology Seminar Series , 2015
Invited Speaker, 4th International Breast Cancer Prevention Symposium (IBCN) , 2014
Invited Speaker, Mead Johnson Pediatric Nutrition Institute Scientific Lecture Series , 2014
Invited Speaker, IUNS 20th International Congress of Nutrition , 2013
Principal’s Award for Research Excellence, Medical University of Lodz , 2013
McGill MedStar Award for Research Excellence, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University , 2012