Danielle Sawyer

Graduate School
College of Medicine – Tucson
Year Entered Program: 
Grad Year: 
Degrees Received: 

A.S. Biology and A.S. Natural Science, Santa Rosa Junior College (2015)

B.S. in Cellular Biology, University of California, Davis (2017)

Thesis Advisor: 
Joann Sweasy, PhD
Thesis Research: 

My research focuses on DNA Polymerase beta (Pol beta) which is a polymerase that lacks inherent proofreading capacity and plays a major role in the short-patch base excision repair pathway. Base excision repair is responsible for the removal of 20,000-50,000 DNA base lesions per cell per day, and when dysfunctional it can lead to genomic instability and cellular transformation. My work studies variants of Pol beta, using kinetic studies as well as cellular approaches in order to further understand how polymerases without proofreading capacity are able to select the correct nucleotide from a pool of similarly structured dNTPs and how variants affect DNA repair capacity in vivo. 

About Me: 

I grew up in Windsor, a small town in Northern California. As a first generation college student, I attended a community college prior to transferring to University of California, Davis. My experience as a first-generation student trying to navigate the road to Medical School has made me passionate about mentoring and supporting other first generation or non-traditional students. Are you a pre-medical student reading this? If so, please reach out with any questions or to set up a meeting. 

My research career began at The Buck Institute in Dr. Brian Kennedy's lab, where I worked with Dr. Mark McCormick studing genes that may contribute to aging and longevity. I later performed research through University of California, Davis in the McKenney and Ori-McKenney labs, where we studied microtubule dynamics and the interaction of microtubules with their associated proteins (MAPs), in vitro. My clinical experiences include working as a medical scribe and trainer for a Hematology/Oncology clinic in Northern California. My passion to help and impact patients directly, and my desire to understand underlying disease mechanisms and help patients on a more global scale, lead me to pursue a career as a Physician-Scientist at The University of Arizona, College of Medicine - Tucson. For my dissertation, I am working in the lab of Dr. Joann Sweasy at the University of Arizona Cancer Center where I study human variants of DNA polymerase beta that may predispose to cancer development and contribute human disease. 

In my spare time, I love to bake, I enjoy watching horror films, and I love to dance. In fact, my husband and I have recently started learning various Ballroom dances. 

Honors & Awards: 
  • Outstanding Senior Award, University of California, Davis. 2017 
  • ARCS Foundation, Eller Memorial Scholar in Memory of Elizabeth Culley. 2022-2023 
  • ARCS Foundation, Marley Foundation Scholar in Memory of Milton "Bud" Webb. 2023-2024
  • Distinction in Community Service (CUP Distintion Track), anticipated May 2027

Leadership Roles: 

  • UA MD-PhD Program Executive Committee Member (2023-Present)
  • MSTP Admissions Member (2021-2022)
  • Search Committee Member at UACOM-T (2022, 2023)
  • UACOM-T Admissions Member (2019-2020)
  • Founding member/Senior Mentorship Chair, FLI MedCats (2020-Present)
  • LCME Independent Student Analysis Committee Member (2023)
  • Focus Group Member (Interview Resources), AAMC (2023)
  • Co-director Tucson Refugee Education and Empowerment (TREE), (2020-2021)


  • APSA Undergraduate Program, Mentor (2019 - Present)
  • Prescribe It Foward, Mentor (2019 - Present)
  • Medical Directive: University of Arizona Chapter, Mentor (2020 - Present)
  • ASU Pre-Health Program, Mentor (2022)

Panel and Guest Speaker Invitations:

  • American Physician Scientist Association (APSA) (2020, 2021, 2023, 2023)
  • American Women's Medical Association (AMWA) (2019, 2022)
  • Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation (2015, 2018, 2019)

University of Arizona Panelist and Speaker Invitations: 

  • U of A FACES in Health Professions (2023)
  • U of A Physiology Club (2022)
  • U of A AMSA Chapter (2022)
  • U of A Honors College (2021, 2022)


Selected Publications: 

Monroy, B.Y., Sawyer, D.L., Ackermann, B.E. et al. Competition between microtubule-associated proteins directs motor transport. Nature Communications 9, 1487 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41467-018-03909-2

Sawyer, D.L., Gratreak, B.D. Medical schools must do more to open the door to first generation and low income students. BMJ (2022); 377 :o1246 doi:10.1136/bmj.o1246

Sawyer, D.L., and Sweasy, J.B. DNA Polymerase Beta in the Context of Cancer. Critical Reviews in Oncogenesis (2022); https://doi.org/10.1615/CritRevOncog.2022043477

Robbins, C. E., Patel, B., Sawyer, D. L., Wilkinson, B., Kennedy, B. K., &; McCormick, M. A.  Cytosolic and mitochondrial trna synthetase inhibitors increase lifespan in a GCN4/ATF-4-dependent manner. IScience (2022). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2022.105410

Staroschak, C., and Sawyer, D. L. How medical schools can better support students through pregnancy and parenthood. BMJ (2023); 381:p1155 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.p1155