Since 2005, the Art beCAUSE Breast Cancer Foundation has granted over $50,000 to organizations and scientists whose research focuses on the environmental causes of breast cancer.
School of Public Health
Elizabeth Stanford graduated magna cum laude from Union College in New York with a double major in Biology and Anthropology. She then went on to receive her Masters in Public Health with a focus in Environmental Health in 2011 from Boston University.
During that time, she worked in the laboratory of Dr. David Sherr as a research assistant, studying the effects of environmental pollutants on breast cancer cells though an environmental receptor called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR).
In the fall of 2011, Elizabeth enrolled in a PhD program in Molecular Medicine at Boston University, and continued her research in Dr. Sherr’s laboratory. She is currently studying the effect of environmental pollutants on breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs). BCSCs represent a small percentage of the whole tumor, but are believed to be extremely resistant to current chemothera-peutics and, thereby, to be responsible for the recurrence and lethal spread of cancer cells after treatment.
Preliminary findings by Elizabeth have shown that activating the AhR with environmental pollutants may lead to the development and/or maintenance of these BCSCs. Understanding the contribution of this environmental chemical receptor to BCSCs will help us better understand the basic molecular biology of this important cancer cell subset and to assess the contribution of environmental chemicals to BCSC development and survival.
Dr. Lucia Speroni,
Postdoctoral Fellow, Tufts University
Dr. Lucia Speroni received her Ph.D degree in 2008 from the National University of Quilmes in Buenos Aires Argentina. There, together with Dr. Bustuoabad she studied the role of tissue environment in tumor malignancy, a subject the continues to be central to her research interest here at Tufts University School of Medicine. In 2010 Dr. Speroni became a post-doctoral fellow in the Laboratories of Drs. Soto and Sonnenschein where she is now developing a 3D culture model to study the role of mammogenic hormones on normal breast tissue organization and during carcinogenesis. Additionally, Dr. Speroni is interested in studying the relationship between perinatal exposure to environmental chemicals and breast cancer development. Thousands of new chemicals are synthesized each year worldwide and are indiscriminately introduced in our midst. Of those, more than 80,000 chemicals are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). They are present in plastics, detergents and other household and consumer products. Identification of those chemicals that are breast carcinogens is a necessary step in order to develop a public health policy aimed at decreasing exposures to protect women from developing breast cancer.
The Art beCAUSE $30,000 Seed the Scientist award will allow Dr. Speroni to develop an organ-like in culture method of the fetal mammary gland in which suspected synthetic chemicals will be tested for their ability to alter mammary gland development, and therefore help to identify potential breast carcinogens.
Dr. Robin Dodson,
Research Scientist, Silent Spring Institute
Dr. Robin Dodson is a Research Scientist at Silent Spring Institute where she conducts environmental exposure assessment research, particularly to support breast cancer research. She currently oversees the Institute's program of testing personal care and cleaning products for endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) and continues to analyze household exposure data (e.g. air and dust data) from the Institute's Household Exposure Studies. She joined Silent Spring Institute in 2007 after completing her doctorate in environmental health at Harvard School of Public Health where she focused on personal exposures to pollutants in homes.
Dr. Perinaaz Wadia,
Research Associate at Tufts University School of Medicine, Dept. of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Boston, MA
- Bachelor of Science, 1994, Majoring in Life Sciences, University of Mumbai, India
- Masters in Science, 1996, majoring in Life Sciences with specialization in Biological Macromolecules, University of Mumbai, India
- Ph.D. in Applied Biology, National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health, University of Mumbai, India
- Postdoctoral Research Associate at Tufts University School of Medicine, Dept. of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Boston, MA
Since she started a new job as medical researcher six years ago, Doctor Perinaaz Wadia has started to view all the plastics in her house with suspicion. She's stopped microwaving leftovers in plastic containers and eats out of glass dishes whenever possible.
That's because many of the plastics in our homes contain a chemical called Bisphenol A, a new-age material that's great for sealing the inside of tin cans and making sturdy plastic bottles, but it could also be responsible for many otherwise-unexplained cases of breast cancer in the United States.
"We need to do a little more work before we are absolutely sure," said Wadia, a Brookline resident and research associate at Tufts University. "But looking at the data, I feel there seems to be a link between this chemical and breast cancer."
Scientists have been looking at the possible hazards of Bisphenol A, or BPA, since the late 1980s, when Wadia's boss, Dr. Ana Soto, and fellow researches noticed that plastic lab equipment was affecting the reproduction of certain cells.
Dr. Betina Lew,
In 2008 a $15,000 grant was awarded to Dr. Betina Lew of the University of Rochester, who is looking at the "In utero" exposure to TCDD and the development of breast cancer. TCDD activates the AhR receptor which can lead to later life breast cancer. So if the AhR receptor can be deregulated, perhaps cancer formation in later life can be prevented.
University of Rochester
BU School of Medicine
Art beCAUSE presents $12,500 to BU School of Medicine PhD. Candidate, Supraja Narasimhan. She also will be co-authoring a manuscript entitled "The role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor in breast epithelial cell growth and invasion."
The age-adjusted incidence of breast cancer in the U.S. increased ~1% per year between 1940 and 1990 such that breast cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women aged 20 to 59. A substantial and growing body of evidence indicates that exposure to certain environmental chemicals contributes to the development of breast cancer. For several years our laboratory has focused on the role of common air pollutants and food contaminants in the development and progression of breast cancer. We have shown that hydrocarbons, commonly found in ambient air as a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels or any other carbon source, preferentially induce breast cancers in laboratory animals. The ability of these environmental hydrocarbons to turn normal breast cells into tumors is dependent on a specific receptor within breast cells which recognizes and binds a variety of ubiquitous environmental hydrocarbons (i.e., the aryl hydrocarbon receptor). Once bound by environmental pollutants, this hydrocarbon receptor delivers signals to the cells which, we hypothesize, increase cell growth, increase cell survival, and drive progression of relatively treatable breast tumors into lethal metastatic breast cancers. The work supported by Art beCAUSE is designed to test this hypothesis.
Dr. Xinhai Yang, M.D., Ph.D,
Boston University School of Public Health
"Seed the Scientist," a ground breaking effort to combat breast cancer, was launched at a festive event November 8, at the State Room in Boston.
Sponsored by Art beCAUSE, the occasion highlighted the $10,000 donation presented to grant winner and principal researcher Dr. Xinhai Yang, M.D., Ph.D, Boston University School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health.
Authorities have long believed that there are environmental causes underpinning this devastating disease. Now prevalent among younger women, the epidemic is growing rapidly and must be stamped out. Art beCAUSE is a non-profit committed to making ours the last generation to suffer this way.
Thus, Dr. Yang’s proposal, “The Role of an Environmental Chemical Receptor, the Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor in Breast Cancer Cell Survival,” speaks to this mandate.
Each year 1.2 million people in the United States, 98% women, learn they have breast cancer. One in seven receive this diagnosis and 40,000 will die.
We now know that breast cancer is associated with natural estrogens and other hormones. Certain chemicals, found in common household products, can mimic estrogen. More than 100 of these are capable of creating breast cancer cells in the lab.
Carcinogenics such as diesel fuel, grilled meat and smoked food, as well as a genetic predisposition, are among the known toxins.
Therefore, Art beCAUSE is establishing “seed” money to help discover a cure. We are supported by a growing number of donors and volunteers who recognize the urgency to terminate this disease. Many of them (including myself, now 14 years cancer-free) have battled the onslaught and survived.
We are often asked about our unusual name. It draws from the contribution of all types of artists with a connection to the disease. A percent of the sale of their work is dedicated to our Foundation.
My colleague and longtime friend, Joyce Crieger, is an artist who conceived the idea of linking the beauty of art with the despair of this frequently terminal illness.
Art, in fact, was in abundance at the November 8 party. It was on display for both silent and live auctions. Also brightening the evening were Dr. Yang’s lovely wife and three year old son.
A native of Beijing,Yang expressed his pleasure at being able to share this "exciting event." "Although it is a relatively small amount for the demands of our needs," he said, "I am overjoyed to feel your caring."
At BU, Yang works under the mentorship of Dr. David Sherr, PhD.
Sherr explained, "It’s as though these cells forget how to die, then grow too fast, and ultimately have an 'identity crisis,' which we call 'metastasized.'"
Sherr and Yang were brought into the "Seed the Scientist" program through the intervention of Art BeCAUSE board member Dr. George Klavens. Acting on a suggestion from his son Jon, a lawyer keenly interested in environmental issues, Klavens talked to Dr. Larry Shulman, chief medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Institute. With Shulman’s guidance, Klavens sent RFP’s (Request for Proposals) to major research institutions. From the three proposals Art beCAUSE received, Dr. Yang’s was selected.
Thus the seed has been planted. May it thrive!
Silent Spring Institute
With great blue herons, yellowlegs, and cattle egrets so abundant in the marsh that borders her property, Jane Chase wasn’t surprised when her backyard was declared a National Wildlife Sanctuary. The designation seemed fitting; for nearly fifty years, she and her husband have lived in a sanctuary of their own, the white clapboard house he built on Cape Cod when they were newlyweds.
Yet Chase has learned to doubt the inviolability of that beloved home. Since becoming a grandmother, she has been diagnosed with two different kinds of breast cancer. The dual diagnosis didn’t seem unusual; many women in her Cape Cod support group have developed more than one type of breast cancer. “Like me, these women have no family history,” she says. “And many of them have started to wonder whether their cancer could have been sparked by something in the air, the water—or even their own homes.”
With such lingering suspicions, Chase was quick to volunteer her home for Silent Spring Institute’s Household Exposure Study. In this ground breaking study, Silent Spring researchers took indoor air and dust samples from 120 homes on Cape Cod and measured the concentrations of 89 chemicals identified as endocrine disrupting compounds, which mimic or interfere with human hormones, sometimes affecting cell growth and development. The investigators’ selection was based on the chemicals’ wide use in pesticides, detergents, plastics, furniture, and cosmetics.
As reported in the October 15, 2003 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, the researchers detected a total of 67 endocrine disrupters in the air and dust, providing the first reported measurements in indoor environments for more than 30 of the compounds. The number of chemicals detected in the homes averaged 19 for air and 26 for dust.
The researchers found phthalates—which have known effects on sperm quality and the development of baby boys—in all of the homes, while parabens—an estrogenic class of chemicals that have been found in urine samples of almost all people tested—were found in 90 percent of the homes. The researchers also demonstrated, for the first time, that alkyl phenols, which are found in detergents, are abundant in indoor air.
In addition, the study provided what the researchers believe to be the first report of the levels in U.S. household dust of the polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants, found in carpets, draperies, electrical appliances, televisions, and computers. In the Cape Cod homes the researchers found PBDE levels to be ten times higher than in European homes, where these chemicals are being phased out because of their suspected toxic effects.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued health-based exposure guidelines for only about half of the compounds in the study. For fifteen of those compounds—including ones that are currently banned—the researchers measured levels that exceeded the guidelines.
“Many of the chemicals we detected were banned many years ago, suggesting that they do not break down indoors,” says Ruthann Rudel, senior scientist at Silent Spring Institute. “We found DDT in dust in 65 percent of the homes even though it was banned thirty years ago. The fact that so many banned chemicals were still in homes suggests that we need to do more substantial testing before products are put on the market.”
No comprehensive list of endocrine disrupting chemicals exists, and most of the nearly 100,000 chemicals in use have not been tested to determine whether they affect hormone systems. “Not enough is known about the potential health risks from exposure to these chemicals,” Rudel says. “Part of the problem is that we tend to study chemicals that are regulated—and we regulate chemicals that are studied. So we end up looking at only a fraction of the chemicals we should be examining. One of our goals with this study has been to try to expand the universe of chemicals that receive regulatory attention.”
Jane Chase welcomes the information. “There are many women in my life I care very much about, and I don’t want them to have to go through breast cancer, too,” she says. “The more we know about what’s in our environment, both indoors and outdoors, the more precautions we can take.”