Marin Breast Cancer Watch to Partner with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Marin Breast Cancer Watch to Lead Community Outreach Core for New Bay Area Research Center

(San Rafael, Calif., October 14, 2023) - The Bay Area will be home to a new breast cancer research center and Marin Breast Cancer Watch (MBCW), a leading community-based research organization, will be the lead agency charged with communicating research findings with the community.

The Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center is one of four research centers being awarded around the country 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.

One of the strengths of the Center will be the 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.

"One of the priorities of our organization is to make sure that scientists understand the concerns of the community. We want to ensure that research is translated in a way that people can understand," said Janice Barlow, Executive Director of MBCW and head of the COTC. "The more people know about the research process, the more they can influence future studies and make their voices heard."

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.

Marin County has one of the highest breast cancer incidence rates in the country. According to the Northern California Cancer Center, there was a 37% increase in breast cancer incidence in Marin County from 1990-1999, while there was a less than 5% increase in other parts of California during the same time.

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.

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.

A grant from the Avon Foundation allowed MBCW to dedicate the time and resources necessary to write the COTC portion of the Center proposal. The other three sites being awarded are at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Michigan State University in Lansing, and the University of Cincinnati.

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