Researching Environmental Link to Breast Cancer

Susan G. Komen® announced California research organizations will receive $4.5 million to more fully understand the role that environmental issues play in breast cancer development. The grants will be part of Komen’s $42 million 2013 research portfolio, which includes a $225,000 grant for continuing studies byKomen Scholar Geoffrey Wahl, Ph.D., of the Salk Institute in La Jolla

The new environmental grants will build on research that Komen has already funded to more fully understand the role of toxins and other environmental factors that may contribute to breast cancer. 

Komen Chief Mission Officer, Chandini Portteus, said that the environmental grants are just one element in Komen’s more than $790 million research program – the largest breast cancer research investment of any nonprofit outside of the U.S. government. 

“These environmental studies will add to our understanding of how breast cancer develops,” Portteus said. “At the same time, Komen will continue to fund research along the entire cancer spectrum – from prevention, to better screening, more personalized treatments for metastatic disease, and ending disparities in outcomes for women of color and those without adequate access to healthcare.”

Komen’s California Commitment

Laura Farmer Sherman, executive director of Susan G. Komen, San Diego said that since 1982, Komen has invested more than $69 million in research funding to California institutions. Susan G. Komen Affiliates in California have also funded more than $61.7 million to community health programs that provide screenings, financial aid and social and emotional support to women and families throughout the state — $11.9 million by Susan G. Komen, San Diego alone.

“Up to 75 percent of the net funds we raise locally, stay here to support our local community health and education programs.  The other 25 percent helps fund Komen’s national research programs,” said Farmer Sherman.  “We’re thankful for our supporters who help us serve our communities here at home, while supporting our education and research institutions.” 

A list of public health programs funded by the Affiliate can be found here

The 2013 California research grants will focus on novel therapeutics, tumor resistance and addressing psychological needs. The grant recipients include:

San Diego 

• A $225,000 grant for continuing studies by Komen Scholar Geoffrey Wahl, Ph.D., of the Salk Institute in La Jolla to identify characteristics in triple negative breast cancer cells, which are often resistant to traditional therapies over time. The study’s goal is to gain a better understanding of the types of cells that make triple negative cancers so dangerous, and to find better methods for eliminating them.

Los Angeles

• Nearly $1 million in funding to Anna Wu, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California to study the effects of air pollution on breast cancer development. 
• Nearly $1 million in funding to Christina Curtis, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California for new approaches to identify biomarkers of resistance to therapy and develop personalized treatments for HER2 breast cancer.
• And $225,000 to Komen Scholar Patricia Ganz, M.D., of UCLA, to develop a program to reduce stress in younger breast cancer survivors, whom studies have shown are particularly susceptible to long-term psychological stress following their diagnosis and treatment. Ganz is developing a protocol for early stress reduction intervention including meditation.

San Francisco

• A $750,000 grant to Anna Napoles, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), to develop a mobile phone application that will help with emotional and physical issues for women and men undergoing breast cancer treatment, with a goal of helping women manage stress associated with cancer treatment and its aftermath. 
• $225,000 to Komen Scholar Rena Pasick, Dr.P.H., of UCSF, for continuing work to identify and educate low-income and ethnically diverse women with genetic risk for breast cancer. Pasick has helped develop a church-based health program for African American women to identify and educate African American women about their genetic risk for breast cancer. Pasick will also conduct studies including interviews and focus groups to develop culturally appropriate and effective risk assessment outreach to women of Chinese descent.
• A $225,000 grant to Thea Tlsty, Ph.D., of UCSF to continue studies on cell response and other factors that lead to significantly higher breast cancer death rates in women of African descent versus Caucasian women. This study is focused on early changes in cancer cells that may help identify pathways important in the initiation and progression of tumors in African American women.
• A $225,000 grant to Komen Scholar Nola Hylton, Ph.D., of UCSF to continue studies into magnetic resonance imaging that could help in developing non-invasive methods for both breast cancer diagnosis and risk assessment. 

Environmental Grants Topics

The five environmental grants awarded for 2013 include separate studies on the impact of radiation exposure on breast cancer development during screening and treatment; pollutants in areas where cancer rates are disproportionately high; the impact of air pollution on breast cancer development, and the role of synthetic chemicals called phthalates. 

These grants include grants to Brigham and Women’s Medical Center in Boston; Duke University in Durham, N.C.; Emory University in Atlanta; and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. 

“In each of these grants, we are attempting to move beyond theories to establish a solid base of scientific evidence on the role of environmental exposures to breast cancer development,” said Portteus.  
Komen has already invested nearly $14 million into 38 research grants studying environmental and lifestyle factors that may affect breast cancer risk, such as chemicals, diet, weight, exercise and alcohol use.  

“Our research and community health outreach would not be possible without the generosity of our partners and donors in communities, and we are so grateful for those who understand and support this vital work for all people facing breast cancer,” Portteus said.

A complete list and description of Komen’s 2013 grants, including the new peer-reviewed California grants, is available here.

All grants and awards are contingent upon receipt of a fully executed agreement.