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Arnold School of Public Health

Genetic epidemiologist Alyssa Clay-Gilmour joins Greenville campus, bolstering Arnold School’s cancer expertise

November 25, 2019 | Erin Bluvas,

The Arnold School is known for its cancer research. Home to the Cancer Prevention and Control Program and the South Carolina Cancer Disparities Community Network, we have teams of researchers and international authorities working to prevent, reduce, treat and improve outcomes related to cancer from nearly every angle.

The Arnold School has researchers focusing on breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, prostrate, skin and other types of cancers, using a variety of methods and perspectives. And as of this fall, we have a genetic epidemiologist (i.e. a scientist who studies the role of genetic factors in determining health and disease in families and in populations and the interplay of such genetic factors with environmental factors).

Alyssa Clay-Gilmour joined the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Arnold School’s satellite campus in Greenville, and her work aims to understand the underlying genetic and environmental risk factors contributing to cancer susceptibility. Embedded within the Prisma Health system, Clay-Gilmour works closely with clinicians in The Cancer Institute, Pediatric Medicine and Hematology.

“This is the prime scenario for students who want experience in clinically translational research,” says Clay-Gilmour, who got an early start contributing to cancer research as an undergraduate at Charleston Southern University.

The dual psychology and professional biology major first gained experience working with faculty members conducting research in lipids and behavioral sciences. During a summer internship at the University of Colorado Denver Cancer Center, Clay-Gilmour worked on a melanoma prevention project – stumbling upon her future career path.  

She continued her education and research training with a Ph.D. in Cancer Pathology and Prevention at the State University of New York – Buffalo/Roswell Park Cancer Institute where she was a Presidential Fellow and then a three-year, National Cancer Institute-funded postdoctoral research fellowship with the Mayo Clinic. During this time, she developed and refined her knowledge and skills in the areas of cancer pathology and prevention, genetic epidemiology, statistical genomics, cancer genetic and molecular epidemiology, and biostatistics – meeting some important mentors and collaborators along the way.

“I have been very lucky in my career to have outstanding mentors,” Clay-Gilmour says. “These mentors helped focus my broad interest in research while providing enthusiasm and guidance, and I hope to continue this tradition and mentor and shape the next generation of researchers.”

She chose the Arnold School for the opportunity to work with the renowned researchers in her department and receive their guidance as she builds her research program. Clay-Gilmour also looks forward to including students in this process as well as developing new courses (e.g., genetic epidemiology) for them based on her expertise. Outside the Arnold School, Clay-Gilmour will continue her work with the International Lymphoma Epidemiology Consortium, where she is a member of several workgroups (e.g., Myeloma, Familial, Genetics, Analytics) and serves as co-director of the Consortium’s Data Coordinating Center.

“We are delighted to welcome Alyssa Clay-Gilmour to the University of South Carolina family,” says Anthony Alberg, chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics. “With her stellar training, Alyssa is well poised to launch a successful independent research career. Genetic epidemiology provides an important part of the scientific foundation for personalized medicine, so we are confident that being based on the Greenville campus will generate fruitful clinical and translational research collaborations. We are also excited that students will have the opportunity to benefit from her expertise in genetic epidemiology, in the classroom and from her mentorship.” 

In the context of learning more about genetic and environmental risk factors for cancers, Clay-Gilmour hopes her work will result in a better understanding of cancer etiology and ultimately individualized risk stratification, prevention and prognosis. She is specifically interested in acute and chronic leukemias and multiple myeloma, including their precursor diseases, and blood and marrow transplantation. Underlying her research program is Clay-Gilmour’s dedication to advancing personalized medicine.

“A person’s unique genetic makeup can predict disease risk, prognosis, treatment and outcomes,” she says. “The methodologies used in genetic epidemiology can be used to understand these relationships and provide clinically relevant information for personalized medicine.”

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