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Environmental Factor

July 2011

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NIEHS grantee honored for new video on breast cancer research

By Ian Thomas
July 2011

Cartoon drawing of a young woman.

The film uses this image of a young woman in the window of susceptibility during puberty, to help communicate the importance of timing of exposure in the development of breast cancer. (Image courtesy of Zero Breast Cancer)

In recognition of its groundbreaking new video, "The Breast Biologues: A biology dialogue about breast cancer and the environment," the NIEHS-funded Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center (BABCERC)( Exit NIEHS was recently presented with the esteemed "Award of Distinction." The video won over stiff competition from thousands of entries in the International Academy of the Visual Arts 2011 Communicator Awards competition.

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The direct result of seven years of collaborative study by researchers Zena Werb, Ph.D., at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), Paul Yaswen, Ph.D., at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Mary Helen Barcellos-Hoff, Ph.D., at New York University's Langone Medical Center.  The video, animated by Lori Schkufza, is an engaging15-minute educational documentary that blends a scientific account of present day environmental breast cancer research with a timely, common-sense approach, making its message readily accessible to anyone from career researchers to the average high school freshman.

"Communicating basic science research is a challenge because of the complex concepts and technical language," said spokesperson Casandra Aldsworth, in a recent press release (  Download Adobe ReaderExit NIEHS (462 KB). Aldsworth serves as the community outreach and education coordinator at Zero Breast Cancer( Exit NIEHS, a nonprofit organization and BABCERC's primary arm for community engagement. "In 'The Breast Biologues,' we tried to show the latest research about breast cancer and the environment in a way that many audiences could understand using animation and time-lapse microscope images."

The BABCERC, funded from 2003 to 2011, was based at UCSF and led by Robert Hiatt, M.D., Ph.D.( Exit NIEHS, currently the director of population sciences at the school's Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center, BABCERC was one of four NIEHS-funded centers in the U.S. tasked with studying environmental causes of breast cancer by focusing on mammary gland development during puberty, a time when the breast may be particularly vulnerable to environmental influences. Falling under its research umbrella was a basic scientific study, an epidemiology study, and a community outreach and translation core.  

In 2010, the Centers transitioned to the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program, a nationwide network of grants, jointly funded by NIEHS and the National Cancer Institute, that engages both laboratory and population-based research to study puberty and other windows of susceptibility, or specific time periods, when the developing breast may be more vulnerable to environmental exposures.

"As an organization, the video is helping us to achieve our goal of increasing awareness of the role of the environment in breast cancer prevention," Aldsworth explained. "We are honored that it has been recognized for its creative merits by the industry's best."

Hosted annually by the International Academy for the Visual Arts, the Communicator Awards honor outstanding achievement in the ever-evolving world of traditional and interactive media. Judged and overseen by the organization's more than 550 members, spanning a wide range of media disciplines, the annual competition draws the works of numerous industry giants, including Disney, HBO, and MTV. For the complete list of 2011 winners, visit the Academy's website( Exit NIEHS.

To learn more about the Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center, or to view The Breast Biologues online, visit Exit NIEHS. Official media kits containing both the video and accompanying comic book, offered in English and Spanish, are available upon request while supplies last.

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison)

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