Barbara Stefanska

Barbara Stefanska

Associate Professor, Food, Nutrition and Health


FNH 248, 2205 East Mall

McGill University, 2008-2013, Post-Doc, Cancer Epigenetics

Medical University of Lodz, Poland, 2003-2007, PhD, Biomedical Sciences (Nutritional Epigenomics)

Medical University of Lodz, Poland, 1998-2003, MPH, Public Health (Master and Bachelor combined)


Dr. Barbara Stefanska is an Assistant Professor in Food, Nutrition and Health Program in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at The University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, Canada. She has joined UBC in July 2017 from Purdue University where she was part of the Department of Nutrition Science. Her area of expertise is nutritional epigenomics and cancer epigenetics.

Dr. Stefanska completed a Master’s in Public Health and a PhD in nutritional epigenomics at Medical University of Lodz, Poland followed by a postdoctoral training in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. During her doctoral and postdoctoral studies, Dr. Stefanska explored epigenetic effects of bioactive food components in cancer prevention and support of chemotherapy, and was the first who established the patterns of DNA methylation and gene expression in liver cancer patients and a functional role of differential DNA methylation between tumor and normal tissue.

Epigenetic modifications play a significant role in normal development and genome stability and constitute a mechanism of genome adaptation to external stimuli. Dr. Stefanska’s laboratory current research interest is to study how the environment (e.g., diet) impacts cell biology through epigenetic mechanisms. As part of the exposome research, the Stefanska Lab focuses on the functional roles of epigenetic enzymes and chromatin-modifying proteins in the effects on cell biology exerted by dietary polyphenols with different chemical structures. The Stefanska Lab has recently provided the first evidence on mechanisms involved in epigenetic effects of stilbenoid polyphenols in a comprehensive omics study of abnormal human mammary epithelial cells.Apart from research and teaching, Dr. Stefanska acts as Senior Editor in Cancer Pharmacology in the British Journal of Pharmacology that is a top international pharmacology journal (ranked 10th out of 297 journals in the category "Pharmacology").

Nutritional Epigenomics

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, chromatin-remodeling complexes, 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.

The Stefanska Lab is focused on addressing the following scientific questions:

1) What are the functional roles of epigenetic enzymes and chromatin-modifying proteins in the effects on cell biology exerted by two distinct dietary polyphenols with known estrogenic activity (phytoestrogens) and uniquely different chemical structures?

Our goal is to understand how the environment (e.g., diet) impacts cell biology through epigenetic mechanisms. We are addressing the following objectives: a) Determine the functional roles of DNMTs in differential DNA methylation in response to dietary phytoestrogens; b) Establish the interaction between DNA and chromatin-modifying proteins in response to dietary phytoestrogens; c) Determine the mechanistic roles of chromatin-modifying proteins in the epigenetic regulation of transcription in response to dietary phytoestrogens. This will further our understanding of the connection between epigenetic regulation of gene transcription and the phenotype in response to environmental cues (e.g., diet). As nearly all biological processes have an epigenetically regulated component, our findings will broadly impact numerous disciplines in natural sciences, including chemistry and biology.

2) Do dietary bioactive compounds reverse epigenetic aberrations underlying inflammation?

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 target those changes in the DNA methylation patterns, preventing further progression to disease (e.g., cancer).

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

Our hypothesis is that dietary polyphenols (e.g., pterostilbene) 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.Please find more information at

  • FNH 350: Fundamentals of Nutrition
  • FNH 477: Nutrition and Disease Prevention
  • HUNU 500: Research Methods in Human Nutrition

Graduate Students


Cayla Boycott, PhD program, Human Nutrition

Tony Yang, MSc program, Human Nutrition

Yuexi Ma, MSc program, Human Nutrition


Megan Beetch, PhD, Human Nutrition

Sadaf Harandi-Zadeh, MSc, Human Nutrition

Lucy Kurzava, MSc, Nutritional Sciences

See Google Scholar for a full list of publications.

Ziarniak K#, Yang T#, Boycott C, Beetch M, Sassek M, Grzeda E, Ma Y, Sliwowska JH*, Stefanska B*. DNA hypermethylation of Kiss1r promoter and reduction of hepatic Kiss1r in female rats with type 2 diabetes. Epigenetics 2022, Sep 12, 1-15, doi: 10.1080/15592294.2022.2119120. #first co-authors, *co-senior authorship (PMID: 36094166)

Boycott C#, Beetch M#, Yang T, Lubecka K, Ma Y, Zhang J, Kurzava Kendall L, Ullmer M, Ramsey BS, Torregrosa-Allen S, Elzey BD, Cox A, Atallah Lanman N, Hui A, Villanueva N, de Conti A, Huan T, Pogribny I, Stefanska B. Epigenetic aberrations of gene expression in a rat model of hepatocellular carcinoma. Epigenetics 2022, May 3, 1-22, doi: 10.1080/15592294.2022.2069386. #first co-authors (PMID: 35502615)

Stefanska B, Tucker SJ, MacEwan DJ. New avenues in cancer prevention and therapy. Br J Pharmacol 2022; 179(12): 2789-2794 (published online Feb 11, 2022). doi: 10.1111/bph.15715. (PMID: 35146753)

Harandi-Zadeh S, Boycott C, Beetch M, Yang T, Martin BJE, Ren K, Kwasniak A, Dupuis JH, Lubecka K, Yada RY, Howe LJ, Stefanska B. Pterostilbene changes epigenetic marks at enhancer regions of oncogenes in breast cancer cells. Antioxidants (Basel) 2021; 10(8): 1232 (pages 1-17) (published online on July 30, 2021). (PMID: 34439480)

Beetch M#, Boycott C#, Harandi-Zadeh S, Yang T, Martin BJE, Dixon-McDougall T, Ren K, Gacad A, Dupuis JH, Ullmer M, Lubecka K, Yada RY, Brown CJ, Howe LJ, Stefanska B. Pterostilbene leads to DNMT3B-mediated DNA methylation and silencing of OCT1-targeted oncogenes in breast cancer cells. J Nutr Biochem 2021; 98: 108815 (pages 1-11) (published online on July 7, 2021). #first co-authors (PMID: 34242723)

Beetch M, Harandi-Zadeh S, Yang T, Boycott C, Chen Y, Stefanska B*, Mohammed SI*. DNA methylation landscape of triple-negative ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) progressing to the invasive stage in canine breast cancer. Sci Rep 2020; 10(1): 2415 (pages 1-15). *co-senior authorship (PMID:32051475)

Beetch M, Harandi-Zadeh S, Shen K, Lubecka K, Kitts D, O’Hagan HM, Stefanska B. Dietary antioxidants remodel DNA methylation patterns in chronic disease. Br J Pharmacol 2020; 177(6): 1382-1408 (PMID:31626338)

Beetch M, Lubecka K, Flower K, Harandi-Zadeh S, Shen K, Suderman M, Flanagan JM, Stefanska B. Stilbenoid-mediated epigenetic activation of Semaphorin 3A in breast cancer cells involves changes in dynamic interactions of DNA with DNMT3A and NF1C transcription factor. Mol Nutr Food Res 2019; 63(19): e1801386. (PMID:31327173)

Beetch M#, Lubecka K#, Kristofzski H, Suderman M, Stefanska B. Subtle alterations in DNA methylation patterns in normal cells in response to dietary stilbenoids. Mol Nutr Food Res 2018; 24: e1800193 (featured on the cover, # equal contribution) (PMID:29797699)

Lubecka K, Flower K, Beetch M, Qiu J, Kurzava L, Buvala H, Ruhayel A, Gawrieh S, Liangpunsakul S, Gonzalez T, McCabe G, Chalasani N, Flanagan JM, Stefanska B. Loci-specific differences in blood DNA methylation in HBV-negative populations at risk for hepatocellular carcinoma development. Epigenetics 2018; 13: 605-626. (PMID:29927686)

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).

Invited Talks

  • Research Seminar, Poznan University of Medical Sciences, Poznan, Poland, June 21, 2022. “Dietary influences on the crosstalk between epigenetics and metabolism”.
  • Seminar Series, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Manitoba, Canada, March 26, 2021. “Diet and the epigenome: investigating epigenetic mechanisms of berry polyphenols”.
  • Graduate Seminar Series, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, University of Missouri, USA, November 12, 2020. “Epigenetic mechanisms of anti-cancer effects of berry polyphenols”.
  • The 12th Congress of the International Society of Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics Conference, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, September 30-October 3, 2018. “Epigenetic effects of berry polyphenols on oncogenic signaling in cancer”.
  • Conference of the International Society for Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods Richmond, BC, Canada, October 15-17, 2018. “Epigenetic effects of berry polyphenols on oncogenic signaling in cancer”.
  • Warsaw University of Life Sciences WULS-SGGW, Veterinary School, Warsaw, Poland, June 15, 2018. “Epigenetic effects of berry polyphenols on oncogenic signaling in cancer”.
  • Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology (IRDB)/Oncology Seminar Series, Imperial College London, London, UK, October 29, 2015. “Epigenetic effects of berry polyphenols on oncogenic signalling in breast cancer”
  • The 4th International Breast Cancer Prevention Symposium (IBCN), Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, October 16-18, 2014.” Epigenetic mechanisms of dietary polyphenols in cancer prevention”.
  • Mead Johnson Pediatric Nutrition Institute Scientific Lecture Series, Evansville, IN, USA. March 12, 2014. “Epigenomics: a new bridge between environmental exposures in prenatal/early life and disease onset later in life”.
  • IUNS 20th International Congress of Nutrition, Granada, Spain, September 15-20, 2013. Parallel Symposium (PS4-41): “Public health genomics in individualized nutrition”.


  • Erasmus Plus Scholar, Poznan University of Life Sciences, June 20-24, 2022, Poznan Poland
  • Editor’s Performance Award for Excellence in Peer Review and Outstanding contributions to the journal and scientific community, The British Journal of Pharmacology, December, 2018, London, UK
  • Erasmus Plus Scholar, Warsaw University of Life Sciences, May 14-18, 2018, Warsaw, Poland
  • Best Presentation Award, 18th International Conference on Human Genetics and Genomics, 2016
  • Principal’s Award for Research Excellence, Medical University of Lodz, 2013 and 2010
  • McGill MedStar Award for Research Excellence, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, 2012
  • Principal’s Award for outstanding PhD thesis, Medical University of Lodz, Lodz, Poland, 2008