Dr. Nancy Merner

Nancy MernerDr. Merner is a native of Paradise, Newfoundland, Canada. She pursued her graduate studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland under the direction of Dr. Terry-Lynn Young, an Associate Professor within the Faculty of Medicine (Discipline of Genetics).

Dr. Merner’s dissertation, “A Molecular Genetics Approach to Gene Discovery of Mendelian Diseases on the Island of Newfoundland” (May 2011), focused on the genetics of hereditary breast cancer, deafness, and a specific form of sudden cardiac death (arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC)). The most significant contribution of her doctoral studies came in 2008 as a member of a dedicated research team that discovered TMEM43 as the cause of ARVC type 5 (ARVC5).

In February 2014, Dr. Merner became a Research Assistant Professor at Auburn University in the Department of Drug Discovery and Development, Harrison School of Pharmacy. She has established a breast cancer genetics research program and is particularly interested in addressing breast cancer disparities through her research. For instance, African American (AA) women have a higher incidence rate of breast cancer under the age of 40 compared to Caucasians.

Considering that an early age of onset is a hallmark of hereditary breast cancer, Dr. Merner has established two protocols (#14-232 and #15-111) to recruit breast cancer individuals/families and identify genetic risk factors; #14-232 involves hospital recruitment through collaboration with East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC), and #15-111 involves community-based recruitment (CBR). Enrollment criteria include individuals (1) diagnosed with breast cancer (at any age) who have a family history or (2) diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 45 without a family history. At the EAMC, a nurse consents patients identified by oncologists; recruitment began Feb. 11, 2015. CBR targets medically underserved individuals through a mechanism aimed to educate and build trust in the community. Through connections fostered by community-partners (CPs), Dr. Merner travels to rural communities to meet and recruit patients/survivors and their family members; recruitment began March 23, 2015.

All breast cancer probands are screened for known breast cancer susceptibility genes through NGS; specifically, by using an Agilent Technologies Haloplex custom-designed probe capture kit and massively parallel sequencing. This new and innovative gene screening technique will provide great insight into the array of mutations that contribute towards hereditary breast cancer. Families identified as mutation-negative after gene screening are further investigated (through exome sequencing, for example) in order to identify novel breast cancer genes. This effort demonstrates how Dr. Merner plans to contribute to a better understanding of breast cancer genetics and disparities.

Last Updated: October 5, 2016