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Breast cancer advisory committee holds first meeting

By Rachel Gross and Jennifer Collins
November 2010

Gwen Collman, Ph.D.
DERT Interim Director Gwen Collman, Ph.D., serves as executive secretary of the IBCERCC. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Janice Barlow, left, and Sandra Haslam, Ph.D.
IBCERCC members Janice Barlow, left, and Sandra Haslam, Ph.D., discuss the meeting during a break. (Photo courtesy of Gwen Collman)

The Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee (IBCERCC) held its inaugural meeting in Washington, D.C. Sept. 30-Oct. 1. The advisory committee, established by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), is comprised of 19 voting members, including representatives of federal agencies; non-federal scientists, physicians, and other health professionals from clinical, basic, and public health sciences; and advocates for individuals with breast cancer.

Committee members describe research, identify gaps

The meeting consisted of presentations from federal members describing their respective agency's breast cancer and environment research portfolio, including scientific advances and perceived research gaps and needs. Paolo Boffetta, M.D., ( Exit NIEHS deputy director of the Tisch Cancer Institute at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine also provided the committee with an overview of relevant international research. 

In addition to the presentations, committee members led discussions focusing on areas of critical scientific importance, including the current understanding of breast cancer and environment, insights from the study of normal mammary gland development, windows of susceptibility to environmental agents, better models and exposure assessment tools, and research translation and community participation. 

The committee developed a draft outline and defined three overarching themes that will guide the development of the IBCERCC Report:

  1. State-of-the-Science: Defining "environment," summarizing current knowledge of normal versus abnormal development and the etiology of breast cancer and multiple exposures across the lifespan, reviewing of federal research portfolio, and conceptualizing methods to put scientific opportunities and resources to use.
  2. Research Process: Setting research priorities, reducing redundancies, process for soliciting research, developing collaborations, identifying issues with peer review and the most appropriate model systems for breast cancer and environment research
  3. Research Translation, Dissemination, and Policy Implications: Encouraging community participation, determining when research is ready for dissemination to the public, and identifying best practices for research translation. 

The committee's responsibilities

The IBCERCC was created in October 2008, when the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act was signed into law, amending the Public Health Service Act.

The IBCERCC is charged with reviewing all research efforts within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concerning the environmental and genomic factors related to the etiology of breast cancer, and developing a comprehensive summary of advances and recommendations regarding research gaps and needs for the Secretary of HHS. 

The committee's primary mission is to facilitate the efficient and effective exchange of information on breast cancer research among the member agencies, and to advise the NIH and other federal agencies in the solicitation of proposals for collaborative, multidisciplinary research, including proposals to further evaluate the environmental and genomic factors that may be related to the etiology of breast cancer. It will serve as a forum to assist in increasing public understanding of the member agencies' activities, programs, policies, and research, and bring important matters of interest forward for discussion. 

More information about the committee's activities may be found on the IBCERCC Web site (

(Jennifer Collins is a program analyst in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) Susceptibility and Population Health Branch. Rachel Gross is a management analyst in the DERT Office of the Director.)

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