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National Institutes of Health Announce Funding of New "Breast Cancer and the Environmental Research Center" at Fox Chase Cancer Center

Fox Chase's Breast Center Is One of Only Four in the United States

PHILADELPHIA (October 14, 2003) — Fox Chase Cancer Center has been selected as a site for the National Institutes of Health's newly developed Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Centers. Their purpose is to probe early environmental exposures that may predispose women to breast cancer.

Fox Chase is one of four sites chosen for the Centers. The Centers are funded jointly by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute, both NIH agencies, at $5 million a year over seven years for a total of $35 million. The other Centers will be located at University of Cincinnati, University of California at San Francisco, and Michigan State University.

The strength of these Centers is that all will work collaboratively towards the common goal of clarifying whether exposures to environmental agents affect early development of the breast and its subsequent cancer risk. The studies will be carried out through the analyzing the effects of specific environmental agents on the development of mammary tissue in animals, and observing breast development in different ethnic groups of young girls to study their exposures to environmental agents as they go through puberty.

"These four centers will work in close cooperation, bringing all of their expertise to bear upon these questions," said NIEHS director Kenneth Olden. "This will be a united effort among the Centers, not four centers working in isolation."

Fox Chase breast cancer researcher Jose Russo, MD, is the lead investigator for the Fox Chase Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Center. While the four Centers will network and interact as a single program, each Center will specialize in a particular area of research.

"These multidisciplinary research Centers were specifically designed to fill essential gaps in our knowledge on how environmental exposures impact the development of the breast during puberty and ultimately affect a woman's lifetime breast cancer risk," explained Russo. "This effort represents a bold and innovative concept that takes advantage of the most recent genetic, molecular, endocrinological and technological advances to address breast cancer prevention."

"Fox Chase Cancer Center is well-known for the quality of its cancer research," said Congressman Joseph Hoeffel (PA-13), whose district includes Fox Chase Cancer Center. "Dr. Russo and his collaborators have developed strong research goals for this project and I'm confident his findings will make significant contributions to our knowledge about breast cancer."

"Our collaborators in this new Center at Fox Chase represent an excellent and dedicated team of co-investigators, including Dr. Irma Russo at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Dr. Coral Lamartiniere from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and Drs. Mary Wolff and Luz Claudio from Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York," said Russo.

The Fox Chase Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Center will work to understand how natural environmental exposures to estrogenically active chemicals during early critical periods of development alter predisposition for breast cancer.

Dr. Coral Lamartiniere and his colleagues at the University of Alabama will investigate the potential of chemicals present in our environment to affect the development and differentiation of the mammary gland. These chemicals include TCDD, Bisphenol A, butyl benzyl phthalate and diethylestilbestrol, which are known to disrupt the endocrine system, and genistein, a nutritional agent that has been demonstrated to protect against breast cancer. Lamartiniere's team, in collaboration with Russo's group, also will characterize the changes environmental chemicals induce in the genetic and protein profiles of the mammary gland.

"This research should provide clues about the pathways that are responsible for modulating the susceptibility or resistance of the mammary tissue to carcinogenesis," explained Russo.

Dr. Mary Wolff and her colleagues at Mt. Sinai will investigate risk factors for pubertal milestones in young African American and Hispanic girls, specifically for age at first breast development, age at menarche, and tempo (duration of puberty, or time from breast development to menarche).

"The aim of this work is to verify whether premenopausal breast cancer, which is more common in African-American women, is related to their earlier age at menarche," Russo said. "Therefore, a better understanding of factors affecting pubertal development will contribute essential knowledge on breast cancer predisposition."

A strongly emphasized component of the Fox Chase-based Center is community outreach. Dr. Luz Claudio at Mt. Sinai will lead the effort to establish a bi-directional communication between Mt. Sinai and the East Harlem community through a community outreach program. This will provide for communication between researchers of the Center and community members who participate in the study. The study will also draw from the cultural richness of the community to support activities that enhance the experience of the young girls participating in the study and their parents.

"We will develop and coordinate on-site educational workshops and activities for the young girls and their parents who are interested in helping with the study," said Russo. "One of the ways in which this sharing of information will occur is through The East Harlem Girl Power News, a newsletter directed by Dr. Claudio's group that will be distributed to the young girls, their parents, researchers, and local policy makers. We expect that the activities of the outreach program will enhance the overall project by providing innovative activities in which the young girls can engage as a group to learn about issues related to their growth and development."

"The Bioinformatics Facility of the Fox Chase Cancer Center, under the direction of Dr. Robert Beck, has been selected as the core that will serve all the centers," Russo added.

NCI director Andrew von Eschenbach explained how past research has contributed significantly to cancer prevention efforts.

"The discovery that most lung cancer was caused by tobacco smoke gave us a way to prevent that cancer. Similarly, the banning of certain industrial chemicals has helped prevent bladder and other cancers. If we can also find environmental causes for breast cancer, we will be on our way to preventing many of these cases."

Jose Russo concluded, "I am confident that the knowledge created through these studies will enrich us intellectually and at the same time will allow us to implement general and public measures for protecting our population from environmental factors that affect the breast during the most vulnerable phases of its development, thus contributing to a definitive reduction in the burden of breast cancer."


Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

Media inquiries only, please contact Diana Quattrone at 215-728-7784.

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