Cancer Institute

  • Kristine L. Willett

    willett_kristine.jpgProfessor, Department of Pharmacology and Environmental Toxicology
    Chair, Department of BioMolecular Sciences
    Cancer Genetics Program

    PhD, Toxicology, 1997, Texas A&M University
    Postdoc, 1998-2000, Duke University
    Postdoc, 1997-98, Indiana University

    Contact information
    Box 1848, 305 Faser Hall
    School of Pharmacy
    University, MS 38677
    Phone: (662) 915-6691

    Research interests

    • Carcinogenic, endocrine disruptive and developmental effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposure
    • Using zebrafish to study the developmental origin of adult disease and potential for multigenerational effects mediated by epigenetic mechanisms
    • Fish embryo and gill toxicity of manufactured silver nanoparticles
    • Mechanisms of action of constituents of natural products in cancer cell lines

    Research synopsis

    There is a new appreciation that environmental factors that act during key developmental stages can increase the risk of developing adult disease, and that this disease susceptibility can be passed on multi- or transgenerationally. Fish are a well suited, but underutilized, model organism for testing the multigenerational and epigenetic consequences of environmental contaminant exposure. PAHs are ubiquitous environmental contaminants that have been long recognized as carcinogens but more recently are being recognized for the reproductive and developmental toxicities. Specifically, we use zebrafish to probe mechanisms of multigenerational toxicity of an environmentally relevant endocrine disruptor benzo[a]pyrene. Funded by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

    The nanoparticle industry is booming, and silver nanoparticles specifically have the highest number of new uses compared to any other. Unfortunately, the toxicological implications of the environmental release of these particles is largely unknown and no regulatory framework exists for them. Our studies not only highlight mechanisms of toxicity but provide useful information for setting risk guidelines. Funded by US Army Corps of Engineers.
    Many natural products have been suggested as having cancer chemopreventative properties. We use prostate or endometrial cells to further explore the molecular mechanisms of particular constituents present in natural products. 

    Recent accomplishments and honors

    • Editorial Board Member of Toxicological Sciences and Aquatic Toxicology

    Selected publications

    • Mechanistic Evaluation of Benzo[a]pyrene's Developmental Toxicities Mediated by Reduced Cyp19a1b Activity. Alharthy KM, Albaqami FF, Thornton C, Corrales J, Willett KL. Toxicol Sci. 2017 Jan;155(1):135-147. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfw182. PMID: 27633980
    • Mercury concentrations in fish from three major lakes in north Mississippi: Spatial and temporal differences and human health risk assessment. Wolff S, Brown G, Chen J, Meals K, Thornton C, Brewer S, Cizdziel JV, Willett KL. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2016;79(20):894-904. doi: 10.1080/15287394.2016.1194792. PMID: 27644342
    • Estradiol co-exposure rescues certain benzo[a]pyrene- and CYP19A1B knockdown-mediated developmental phenotypes in zebrafish.  Alharthy, K., Thornton, C., Corrales, J. Willett, K.L. Society of Toxicology, March 13-17, 2016, New Orleans, LA. Poster.
    • Developing an in vivo screen to test the efficacy and safety of curcumin against MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Dhawan, T., Brooks, T.A., Willett, K.L. Society of Toxicology, March 13-17, 2016, New Orleans, LA. Poster.
    • Using multi- and transgenerational effects of environmental exposures in diverse animal models for assessment of human health risks - Introduction. Willett, K.L. Society of Toxicology, March 13-17, 2016, New Orleans, LA. Platform and Session Chair.
    • Using changes in the transcriptome and promoter methylation to explain benzo[a]pyrene-mediated developmental adverse outcomes. Willett, K.L. Society of Toxicology, March 13-17, 2016, New Orleans, LA. Platform.
    • Transcriptomic Changes in Zebrafish Embryos and Larvae Following Benzo[a]pyrene Exposure. Fang X, Corrales J, Thornton C, Clerk T, Scheffler BE, Willett KL. Toxicol Sci. 2015 May 21. pii: kfv105. [Epub ahead of print]
    • Gill histopathologies following exposure to nanosilver or silver nitrate; Hawkins AD, Thornton C, Kennedy AJ, Bu K, Cizdziel J, Jones BW, Steevens JA, Willett KL.; J Toxicol Environ Health A. March, 2015;78(5):301-15. doi: 10.1080/15287394.2014.971386.
    • Alteration in Pimephales promelas mucus production after exposure to nanosilver or silver nitrate;  Hawkins AD, Thornton C, Steevens JA, Willett KL.;  Environ Toxicol Chem. 2014 Dec; 33(12):2869-72. doi: 10.1002/etc.2759. Epub 2014 Oct 27.
    • Identification of silver nanoparticles in Pimephales promelas gastrointestinal tract and gill tissues using flow field flow fractionation ICP-MS; Hawkins, A.D., Bednar, A.J., Cizdziel, J.V., Bu, K., Steevens, J.A., and Willett, K.L., 2014. RSC Advances. 4, 41277-41280.
    • Multigenerational effects of benzo[a]pyrene exposure on survival and developmental deformities in zebrafish larvae. Corrales J, Thornton C, White M, Willett KL.  Aquat Toxicol. 2014 Mar;148:16-26. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2013.12.028. Epub 2014 Jan 3. PMID: 24440964