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NIEHS-Funded Leukemia Researcher Honored for Lifetime Achievement

By Colleen Chandler
January 2009

Patricia Buffler
NIEHS grantee Patricia Buffler is shown at the award ceremony at the House of Lords in London. (Photo courtesy of of Colin Hampden-White and CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA)

The awardees
The awardees posed beside the Thames on the terrace at the House of Lords. Shown, from left, were Anjali Shah, Ph.D., Caroline Blakely, acting chief executive of CHILDREN with LEUKEAMIA, Buffler, Frederick Langevin, receiving the award for K.J. Patel, Ph.D., and Nicholas Goulden, M.D. (Photo courtesy of of Colin Hampden-White and CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA)

University of California (UC), Berkeley epidemiologist Patricia Buffler, Ph.D., whose research NIEHS supports, was honored by the United Kingdom (U.K.)-based charity, CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA June 24 for her lifetime contributions in the field of childhood leukemia research. The award was one of four bestowed at the organization's annual awards ceremony, "Celebrating Science: Current Successes, Future Hopes for Childhood Cancer."

"Dr. Buffler was selected for this award in recognition of her life-long dedication to finding causes of childhood leukaemia and other childhood cancers, and her expertise in childhood cancer research, both nationally and internationally," stated the organization's announcement. The CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA ( Exit NIEHS 2009 Awards were presented at a reception in the Terrace Pavilion at the House of Lords in London, according to an organization spokesperson.

Leukemia is the most common form of childhood cancer in both the U.K and the U.S. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 2,200 new cases are diagnosed each year. According to CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA, there are an estimated 475 to 500 new cases each year in the U.K.

Buffler is a professor of epidemiology and dean emerita appointed as a Kenneth and Marjorie Kaiser Endowed Chair at UC Berkeley. She heads the Northern California Childhood Leukemia Study (NCCLS) ( Exit NIEHS, a gold mine of data on environmental factors associated with childhood leukemia. She is also a member of the Institute of Medicine.

Besides NIEHS funding, Buffler receives funding from NCI and CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA. Her work continues to build on the framework established with the epidemiological evaluation of data from 35 northern and central California counties under the NCCLS, resulting in a number of publications analyzing and expanding that data.

"The NCCLS is an ongoing comprehensive molecular epidemiology study, which pioneered the use of a multidisciplinary approach to study molecular, toxicologic, genetic, environmental and epidemiologic factors related to the development of childhood leukaemia, and is one of the leading studies worldwide," the CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA award announcement said.

(Colleen Chandler is a writer/editor in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

Award-Winning Research on Childhood Leukemia

Buffler's research is primarily focused on identifying gene and environment interactions related to leukemia. She and fellow researchers at Berkeley have looked at the following factors and their contributions to the development of childhood leukemia:

  • How genes modify a child's susceptibility to environmental exposures
  • The in utero changes that initiate disease development
  • The different molecular subtypes of leukemia and possible or likely associations with specific environmental exposures
  • The link between household pesticides and an increased risk of developing leukemia
  • The correlation between timing of exposure to pest controls and the associated risk, showing that exposure during pregnancy resulted in the highest risk
  • The increased risk of exposure to professional pest control products and the development of the disease in childhood
  • The effect of and timing of one or both parents' smoking habits and their offspring's chances of developing the disease
  • The link between disease development and maternal diet
  • The preventive effect of prenatal folate supplements as well as the detrimental effect of maternal alcohol consumption, which depletes folate bioavailability
  • The possible effects of childhood diet and disease development
  • The reduced risk associated with breastfeeding
  • A possible association between childhood infections and leukemia.

Recent funding application information indicates that Buffler intends to widen the scope of the data collection and analysis to include information from Canada, the UK, France and Australia through the creation of international consortiums to look at the disease from a worldwide perspective.

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