Breast Cancer prevention was the goal when the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition (GNBCC) created its Students & Scientists Breast Cancer/Environment Research Program nine years ago. Local high school students intern at laboratories addressing breast cancer causation and environmental links to breast cancer. During this hands-on experience these young scientists learn that ubiquitous toxic exposures are creating havoc in our environment and contributing to chronic diseases. To date, GNBCC has provided 29 high school internships at seven laboratories in the Northeast.
During summer 2013, GNBCC sponsored six students. At the Soto/Sonnenschein Laboratory at Tufts University School of Medicine, Christine Lee (GNSHS) and Kaeli Groenert (Sewanhaka HS) learned how Bisphenol A (BPA) can induce cancer in mammary glands by mimicking estrogen, which allows the formation of abnormal cells. Christine explains that “we were shown the procedures of processing tissue from a mouse necropsy to sectioning, staining, mounting and observing.”
Regarding toxic chemicals in consumer products, Kaeli’s impression was, “It is necessary for the scientific community to come up with safer alternatives to endocrine disruptors in items that are integral parts of our lives.”
Lawrence Lin (GNNHS) and Prasanth Kurup (GNSHS) at NYU Polytech assisted research into finding safer alternatives to chemicals like BPA by developing and strengthening bio-plastics suitable for consumer products. Lawrence and Prasanth: “These polymers demonstrate remarkable potential to displace traditional plastics used in cups, food packaging, toys and even grocery bags.”
Justin Baroukhian (GNNHS) and Sammy Hijazi (Calhoun HS) assisted research replacing PCBs in textiles and clothing with a safer alternative. At the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, Justin and Sammy’s experiments were so successful, they will be published in a journal with their mentor, John Warner, Ph.D.
Four students joined GNBCC at the Breast Cancer & Environment Research Program Conference (BCERP) sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute in Madison, Wisconsin in November. After abstracts were approved by the BCERP review panel, Lawrence, Prasanth and Sammy displayed posters of their work for viewing by 200 conference participants including national researchers.
Lawrence: It was the first time I saw so many prominent scientists in one place, sharing one common goal. Their presentations focused on breast cancer prevention through environmental awareness. I had a chance to witness the culmination of years of scientific discovery.
Prasanth Kurup: It was interesting to learn about how one’s background does not matter in some cases when it comes to breast cancer; the environment can be a major deciding factor, as one researcher explained through her study of South Asian women who migrated to East London.
Sammy Hijazi: Scientists presenting at the conference have accomplished extraordinary projects to raise awareness on the causes of breast cancer. Having the opportunity to share my poster with scientists, clinicians, and breast cancer advocates and hearing input on my experiment was unbelievable. We need to work towards a safer and greener environment as ‘Genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.’
Kaeli Groenert: The conference refuted the statement that “early detection is the best protection.” Prevention is the best protection. Researchers discussed their plans to continue research to stop cancer in its tracks before it occurs. After the conference, I was bursting with information and the urge to share what I learned.
GNBCC looks forward to celebrating the 10th Anniversary of our student program. “We are fascinated to see how much the students that we sponsor learn.” says Laura Weinberg, GNBCC president. “Students have shared that the program has changed the direction of their lives.” says Lisa Levine, GNBCC vice president.
For information and how students may apply: www.greatneckbcc.org