NYU Langone School of Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

The 2011 Community Breast Cancer Research Award was presented to a trio of scientists who are working to discover unique factors that play a role in the development of breast cancer: Mary Helen Barcellos-Hoff, PhD, NYU Langone School of Medicine; Zena Werb, PhD, University of California, San Francisco; and Paul Yaswen, PhD, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They are being recognized for their scientific contributions to the Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center (BABCERC). Dr. Werb was the Project Leader and Drs. Barcellos-Hoff and Yaswen were the Co-Investigators in the (2003-2010) BABCERC Biology Project, Environmental Effects on the Molecular Architecture and Function of the Mammary Gland across the Lifespan. This pioneering team has conducted basic science studies on mouse mammary and human breast cell models in order to understand how environmental factors regulate cell behavior during normal development and during cellular conversion to cancer.

These community researchers were recognized for their collaboration with Zero Breast Cancer in translating and disseminating research findings to the community.

Dr. Barcellos-Hoff views the science of breast cancer as a puzzle, with many known facets and other contributing pieces that are yet to be discovered. Her prior work at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and current research in the Departments of Radiation Oncology and Cell Biology at the NYU Langone School of Medicine has focused on the role of ionizing radiation in breast cancer development and on establishing a model, at the cellular and molecular level, for investigating environmental exposures during critical periods of the developing mammary gland. The goal of Dr. Barcellos-Hoff's scientific work is to understand how multi-cellular processes are disrupted during the progression from normal to neoplastic (abnormal proliferation of breast cells).

Dr. Yaswen, staff scientist at the Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is researching the molecular defects (both genetic and epigenetic) that contribute to the initiation and maintenance of malignancy in human breast cancer cells. A cell and molecular biologist, Dr. Yaswen's scientific work focuses on gene­ environment interactions and how defects in cells interact with the environment in a manner that either suppresses malignant cell growth or proceeds to breast cancer. In one of his studies, Dr. Yaswen focuses on how exposure to radiation, a prototypical environmental carcinogen contributes to the transformation of human mammary epithelial cells. By studying the effects of radiation on mammary epithelial cells using state of the art imaging, genomic, and genetic tools, Dr. Yaswen aims to discover cellular-level alterations associated with breast cancer risk.

Dr. Werb, a professor and vice-chair of the UCSF Department of Anatomy, holds dual appointments at the UCSF Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center and the UCSF Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Werb is internationally recognized for her fundamental discoveries about the molecular and cellular basis for normal breast development, and the role of the extracellular environment in the early stage development of breast cancer. Her work is also focused on investigating the role of stem cells in the development of breast cancer.

On the community level, Dr. Werb partners with Zero Breast Cancer to educate the public about current scientific advances that may one day explain why women develop breast cancer and how to prevent the disease from progressing.

As members of the Centers, Dr. Barcellos-Hoff, Dr. Yaswen and Dr. Werb have partnered with Zero Breast Cancer in the production of two educational kits for the community, Of Mice and Women: Modeling Breast Cancer and the Environment, and The Breast Biologues: A biology dialogue about breast cancer and the environment. The Of Mice and Women educational tool kit consists of a video and a scientific glossary and explains why mouse models are used to study breast cancer prevention. The Breast Biologues educational tool kit consists of an animated video and comic book (in English and Spanish) designed to illuminate the concept of "windows of susceptibility" for breast cancer. Both videos are being broadcast nationwide through the University of California Television and can be accessed online from the Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center and Zero Breast Cancer websites.