Cozzo wins 2017 Marci Kramish Campbell Dissertation Award

Marci Campbell, PhD, was a national leader in cancer prevention and control, disparities and survivorship research, a faculty leader at UNC-Chapel Hill and a program leader at UNC Lineberger. The award established in her honor recognizes excellence in dissertation research focused on cancer and the population sciences.

Cozzo wins 2017 Marci Kramish Campbell Dissertation Award click to enlarge Alyssa Cozzo is a doctoral candidate in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
Cozzo wins 2017 Marci Kramish Campbell Dissertation Award click to enlarge Marci Kramish Campbell, PhD, was a leader in cancer prevention and control, disparities, and survivorship research. Campbell was a strong proponent of building the next generation of researchers.

Alyssa Cozzo, a doctoral candidate in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, has been named the recipient of the 2017 Marci Kramish Campbell Dissertation Award, which recognizes excellence in dissertation research focused on cancer and the population sciences and includes a $5,000 prize. 

“Alyssa is a phenomenal student who has brought innovative ideas and techniques to the lab,” said Liza Makowski, PhD, Cozzo’s advisor, a former UNC Lineberger member who is now on faculty at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Obesity has been linked to increased risk of invasive breast cancer, metastasis, or the spread of the cancer to distant sites in the body, and breast cancer-related death. Cozzo is studying how the tissue microenvironment in the breast of obese people affects cancer risk and/or outcomes for a collection of breast cancer subtypes known as “triple-negative.” The tissue microenvironment refers to the surrounding local conditions that a given cell is exposed to, including signaling factors, structural components that hold the tissue together, or other cell types such as immune cells. Specifically, she’s investigating how obesity may affect inflammation and immune cells linked to inflammation within the breast tissue microenvironment, with a focus on changes to immune cells in fatty tissue. She is also interested in whether those changes can be prevented or reversed through weight loss, or by other means.

Her current study examines obesity-associated inflammatory changes within fatty tissue of the breast and tumors in mice that were lean, obese, or that lost weight intentionally. While analyses are ongoing, the studies have revealed promising findings regarding changes in the number and activation state of select immune cell subsets within mammary fatty tissue. She is currently using genetic signatures from the immune cells – which indicate the type of immune cells that are present -- to corroborate her findings in human breast tissue samples from both healthy subjects and breast cancer patient populations. 

Cozzo is expected to graduate in May, after completing a degree in public health nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. After graduation, she plans to attend medical school with the goal of becoming a medical oncologist

“Receiving the Marci K. Campbell award has supported me in framing my current research within a larger context, and expanding my familiarity with the literature in my field to include more epidemiological and clinical studies, both of which better prepare me for a career in oncology,” she said. “Since receiving this award, I have also had the opportunity to meet several people in Gillings and through UNC Lineberger whose lives were directly touched by Marci Campbell, which is a potent and poignant reminder of the importance of cancer research.”

Campbell was a national leader in cancer prevention and control, disparities and survivorship research, a faculty leader at UNC-Chapel Hill and a program leader at UNC Lineberger. She died in December 2011, after living with cancer for nearly two years.