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Grant Funds Research on Environmental Link to Breast Cancer

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Betina Lew, Ph.D.

A foundation that funds research that examines the environmental causes of breast cancer has awarded a grant to a post-doctoral associate at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Betina J. Lew, Ph.D., currently studies the effects of exposure to dioxin on the development of the mammary gland during pregnancy. Thanks to the $15,000 grant from the Art beCAUSE Breast Cancer Foundation, Lew will begin a pilot project looking at the possible role of exposure to pollutants in increased risk of developing breast cancer. Her work will focus on the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, one of many molecules that play a role in the proper development of the mammary gland. Scientists already know that the molecule is a target of pollutants like dioxin and even cigarette smoke. Changes in the receptor’s behavior can alter normal cellular growth and proliferation.

“Breast cancer is an enigmatic disease,” said Lew. “Only 10 percent of cases are related to genetics. What about the other 90 percent? We’re looking at the possible role of environmental factors.”

A native of Brazil, Lew joined the University two years ago and does her research in the laboratory of Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., in the Department of Environmental Medicine.

The grant to Lew is the largest grant the foundation has made yet through its “Seed the Scientist” program, which the foundation launched in 2006 to fund research exploring the potential environmental causes of breast cancer. “A substantial and growing body of evidence indicates that exposure to certain environmental chemicals contributes to the development of breast cancer,” said Ellie Anbinder, executive director of Art beCAUSE. “It is the organization’s hope that with continued research in this area we will be able to prevent some forms of breast cancer while also improving our environment. We are thrilled to fund Dr. Lew’s research and excited by its potential impact.”

More information about the foundation can be found at  

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