On June 2, the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition (GNBCC) celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Students & Scientists Breast Cancer/Environment Research Program at Great Neck House. GNBCC, which founded the program in 2005, has sponsored 36 high school students at eight world-renowned environmental and breast cancer research facilities where they learned sophisticated laboratory procedures in state-of-the-art labs.
Twenty program alumni poured into Great Neck House bringing nostalgia and excitement. Posters that had been presented by the students at conferences over the past decade and other memorabilia were on display. Along with students and family members, on hand were GNBCC board members, GNBCC co-founders Barbara Masry and Helene Goldstein, Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender and Saddle Rock Mayor Dan Levy.
Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, Paul Ehrlich of Senator Jack Martins’ office and Elizabeth Cole of Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel’s office presented citations to GNBCC, to commemorate the coalition’s 10 years of dedication to founding, developing and sponsoring student internships. “Our coalition believes that educating the public and the next generation on environmental links to breast cancer, especially at the laboratory level, will help reduce the risk of future diagnoses.” said Laura Weinberg, president of GNBCC. As stated by Julia Brody, PhD of the Silent Spring Research Institute in a peer-reviewed study of 102 chemicals linked with breast cancer, “Reducing chemical exposures could save many, many women’s lives.”
Carol Frank, journalist, was guest speaker at the event. Frank followed the student program since its inception and wrote several articles about the program’s successes.
The main event was hearing what the alumni students had to say about their accomplishments after their internships. Twenty students passionately explained the direction they took over the years. Karolina Woroniecka at Duke University Medical School (GNBCC 2008), Ashtyn Greenstein (GNBCC 2012), and John Yang (GNBCC 2011, 2012) all expressed that the GNBCC program sparked their interest in conducting laboratory research. Woronieka said that she wants to open up her own lab one day attributing that to her experience at the Soto/Sonnenschein Lab at Tufts University School of Medicine. Greenstein mentioned that she had worked in one laboratory on the effects of the toxic chemical PCB and will continue to take course work on molecular biology at Rutgers University.
Monika Amirian (2006) who is now in law school said, “This program showed me that without advocacy, little would be done with the knowledge acquired within the four walls of a laboratory. GNBCC does more than just send its students to a lab to learn about the environmental effects on breast cancer. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to speak to legislators in Albany with Laura Weinberg, Karen Brachot (2005) and the New York State Breast Cancer Network about scientific research regarding BPA in order to ban it from cash receipts and plastics.”
Vita Jaspan (2011) said that by interning at the Soto/Sonnenschein Lab an unexpected opportunity opened up for her at Washington University in St. Louis: acceptance to the University’s Sustainability Program where she conducted water and soil testing to detect potential toxins in the Mojave Dessert and Hawaii. Heidi Park (2007), a graduate of Wesleyan College organized a presentation through her college’s biology department on the harmful effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals and breast cancer and other diseases. Park has applied to several medical schools. Eugene Park (2010) who is currently enrolled at NYU’s undergraduate/graduate program for dentistry said that he hopes to encourage research to discover safer dental composites that don’t contain BPA which has been linked with breast cancer. Regina Roofeh (2008) is applying to graduate schools to become a physician’s assistant. The student program helped her solidify her goal. Zoe Schacht-Levine (2009) who interned at the Silent Spring Institute said that she regularly encourages her friends to carefully read cosmetic labels to avoid purchasing products with chemicals linked to breast cancer.
The GNBCC 2014 student interns are: Michael Shen, Robin Shum, Sunny Shi, Jacob Rigos (Great Neck South HS) Nicole Lalezarzadeh (Great Neck North HS), Sandra Glotzer (U.N. International HS), Andreas Pavlou (Sewanhaka HS).
Public Access TV filmed the GNBCC June 2nd event and aired it on channel 20. Rob Zahn of the Great Neck School District also sent a representative to videotape the event.
Participating laboratories of the GNBCC student program: Soto/Sonnenschein Lab at Tufts University School of Medicine, Dr. Yong Zhu at Yale University School of Public Health, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Stonybrook University, Silent Spring Institute, Warner Babcock Institute, Dr. Richard Gross at Rensselaer Poly Tech Institute, NYU Poly Tech Institute.
Breast cancer coalitions nationwide have expressed interest in the GNBCC student program model. The Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition successfully adopted the GNBCC student program in 2007.
Most of the alumni students vowed to be lifelong breast cancer and environmental advocates. Lawrence Lin, Prasanth Kurup (2012, 2013), Sean Liu, Rick Mathews (2013), Jon Salm (2007), Sylvie Rubin-Budick, Katherine Lee (2012), Christina Lee, Justin Baroukhian, Sammy Hijazi and Kaeli Groenert (2013) said “the GNBCC student program was one of the best science academic experiences of their student career.”
For more information on GNBCC Students & Scientists Breast Cancer/Environment Research Program visit: www.greatneckbcc.org.