New NIH breast cancer research focuses on prevention

National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a new phase of the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP), focused on prevention.

NIH said on Thursday that grant-funded researchers would work across scientific disciplines, involve new racially and ethnically diverse communities, and expand the study of risk factors that precede breast cancer, such as breast density.

According to NIH, these new directions reflect recommendations made by the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC) in 2013. IBCERCC was congressionally mandated to review the state of the science around breast cancer and environmental influences by the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act. Recommendations included prioritizing prevention, involving transdisciplinary research teams, engaging public stakeholders, collaborating across federal agencies, and communicating the science to the public.

This broadened research focus, NIH says, will add to the growing knowledge of environmental and genetic factors that may influence breast cancer risk across the lifespan. Furthermore, the six new BCERP projects, plus a new coordinating center promoting cross-project collaboration, are jointly funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Cancer Institute. All projects involve strong partnerships between researchers and organizations focused on breast cancer prevention or environmental health, NIH concluded.

NIH has revealed that the new research will be conducted at the following institutions:
Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston
City of Hope/Beckman Research Institute, Duarte, California
Columbia University, New York City
Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Washington, D.C.
Michigan State University, Lansing
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Wisconsin – Madison (Coordinating Center)

Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training said:

“The beauty of this research is that scientific discoveries and community observations inform each other, in order to dive deeper into the complex causes of breast cancer.”

NIH further said that the focus on minority and socio-economically disadvantaged women is an important step in addressing disparities in breast cancer outcomes. Although African-American women are diagnosed with breast cancer less often than white women, more aggressive cancers and breast cancer deaths are more common among African-American women. NIH noted.

The US medical research agency added that another new direction for BCERP is research on the role of breast density as a possible intermediate risk factor for breast cancer. Dense breast tissue is one of the most common risk factors for breast cancer. Identifying links between environmental exposures and high breast density may provide new insights into prevention, it has been noted in NIH’s press release.

“These priorities reflect our continued commitment to breast cancer prevention,” noted Caroline Dilworth, Ph.D., BCERP program lead at NIEHS.

“Our goal is to build on the high quality science we’ve been funding for more than a decade, while also being responsive to the expert recommendations of the IBCERCC report.”

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