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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 10/23/03
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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UC College of Medicine, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Awarded $9.6 Million Breast Cancer Research Grant

The UC College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) have received funding to develop one of four "Breast Cancer & the Environment Research Centers" in the nation. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will provide funding of nearly $9.6 million over the next seven years for the new center, which will conduct two major research projects as well as provide community outreach and education with the collaboration of breast cancer advocacy organizations.  Locally, these advocates include the Breast Cancer Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, Pink Ribbon Girls, and Patterns, Inc.

"The breast cancer advocates in this community have been asking questions about the environmental factors related to breast cancer for many years," said Kathy Ball, RN, a breast cancer survivor and the Cincinnati Center's volunteer Community Outreach Advisor. "We have worked diligently with our Congressmen to get the legislation enacted to create these Centers."

Nancy Zimpher, PhD, president of UC, said, "We should be very proud of this achievement and I want to thank Senator Voinovich and Janet Voinovich for their leadership and support in securing the research funding. I also want to thank the local breast cancer advocacy community for making the Growing Up Female project possible through their untiring educational and communications efforts."

"We're excited and honored to be chosen as one of the centers, and look forward to working with our community partners on this project," said Sue Heffelfinger, MD, PhD, associate professor in the UC College of Medicine and director of the new center.  "Together, our research and outreach efforts will make an impact on a disease which claims the lives of 40,000 women per year in the U.S."

"The courage and compassion of the breast cancer survivors have been truly inspirational," said Frank Biro, MD, professor of clinical pediatrics and principal investigator of the Female Development & Maturation Study. "We look forward to the researchers, breast cancer survivors, and participants and their families working together to help evaluate the links between breast cancer and the environment."

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. today. The Breast Cancer & the Environment Research Center studies will investigate the impact of chemical, physical, biological, social and genetic factors on female development and maturation. The influence of these factors may determine a young girl's risk of developing breast cancer later in life.

Jane Henney, MD, senior vice president and provost for health affairs at UC said, "Although we have made great progress in detecting and treating breast cancer, it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. today."

The Breast Cancer & the Environment Research Center studies will investigate the impact of chemical, physical, biological, social and genetic factors on female development and maturation. The influence of these factors may determine a young girl's risk of developing breast cancer later in life. "This kind of information will allow us to develop strategies so that the risk does not become a reality," Dr. Henney said. "The work we do here in Cincinnati holds the potential to improve the health of future generations here and everywhere."

The research center  in Cincinnati will plan and implement common study methods and approaches with the three other centers, which together will:
  • Study the environmental and genetic determinants of puberty in girls. Early puberty has been shown to increase breast cancer risk later in life. This human population research will address nutritional and social characteristics as well as chemical exposures at home and school that influence the start of puberty. In addition, gene-environment interactions that may affect the pubertal process will be studied.
  • Study the effects of environmental exposures on the structure of the mammary gland over the lifespan of laboratory animals. The primary purpose of this laboratory study is to define the molecular architecture of the developing and changing mammary gland over the lifespan, and determine when breast tissue is most at risk from environmental factors, the "window of vulnerability." Environmental factors can include not only chemical and physical carcinogens but nutritional and social characteristics as well. New and improved animal models and biomarkers will be developed to study the impact of multiple environmental stressors on the development of breast cancer.
  • Translate the scientific findings of the centers into easily understood information which educates the public and policy-makers on the centers' findings. Outreach will include printed materials, workshops, and training activities. The breast cancer community is critical to the centers' efforts to disseminate research results.


The UC/Cincinnati Children's Hospital Center's proposal, "Puberty & Cancer Initiation: Environment, Diet & Obesity" was selected through a national competitive process.  Representatives of breast cancer support, advocacy, education and service organizations will remain actively involved with the project throughout its seven year duration. For a summary of the proposal, researcher profiles and additional information related to the Breast Cancer & the Environment Research Centers, please visit the web site "Growing Up Female: Environmental Factors in Female Development & Disease" at www.eh.uc.edu/growingupfemale.


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