Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center

The Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center is one of four research centers created by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to investigate potential environmental factors that could lead to breast cancer.

The Center is a collaborative effort among Bay Area institutions, researchers, scientists and advocacy groups to harness the expertise in the region and work together to better understand the causes of breast cancer and what can be done to prevent it.

Initially, there will be two main areas of research focus. One project will study how the developmental steps of the mammary gland and use mouse models to test the effects of exposure to potential environmental stressors. The second project will be to conduct an epidemiological study of the determinants of puberty in girls. Attention will be paid to understanding the shift toward earlier puberty among adolescent girls, the identification of environmental exposures in young girls, and the interplay between genetic polymorphisms and environmental exposures that may put them at risk for future breast cancer.

One of the strengths of the Center will be its commitment to communicate its efforts with the local community. Marin Breast Cancer Watch will lead the Community Outreach and Translational Core (COTC), which seeks to facilitate two-way communication between scientists and the community.

The effort to a secure a Center in the Bay Area started last year after Marin Breast Cancer Watch co-hosted a town hall meeting with the UC Berkeley NIEHS Center titled: "Voices for a Healthy Community: Breast Cancer and the Environment." The town hall created a dialogue between scientists and the community on breast cancer, identified areas of future breast cancer research, and created opportunities for further collaboration among cancer groups, concerned health professionals, scientists, public policy advocates, government officials and community members.

At the town hall, NIEHS Director Dr. Kenneth Olden announced the agency would award funding for centers in the coming year. A Bay Area group soon formed and began drafting a proposal. Shortly thereafter, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) helped secure a commitment from four federal health agencies to study Marin County's breast cancer rate and allocate resources for the effort.

The Research Center and the other centers in a national network supported by the NIH will focus attention on adolescence, a vulnerable period of breast development thought to play a critical role in the future development of breast cancer.

The BABCERC has a broad group of collaborators, including the University of California, San Francisco; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories; Kaiser Permanente; California DHS; Marin Breast Cancer Watch; San Francisco DHHS; the Marin County Health Department; and Roswell Park Cancer Institute.