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Solving Cancer through Prevention

Grant supports researchers at Tufts School of Medicine and Boston University to look at causes of breast cancer

When Ellie Anbinder found out she had breast cancer, she wanted to know why. Gail Sonenshein and Charlotte Kuperwasser also want to understand why Anbinder, and thousands of women like her with no family history, develop breast cancer. Thanks to a grant from Anbinder's foundation, Art beCAUSE Breast Cancer Foundation, Sonenshein and Kuperwasser, a professor and associate professor, respectively, in the Department of Developmental, Molecular, and Chemical Biology at Tufts University School of Medicine, are working with a team to determine why the rate of breast cancer in the United States has risen so dramatically.

Fifty years ago, women in the U.S. had a one in 20 risk of developing breast cancer. Today the risk for women is one in eight, and more men are getting it too. Family history accounts for a small minority of cases. "You can ascribe 10 to 15 percent of cases of breast cancer to genetic causes," says Sonenshein. When it comes to the other 85 to 90 percent, "there clearly seem to be environmental factors at work."

After her diagnosis and treatment, Anbinder co-founded Art beCAUSE to fund scientific research into environmental factors related to breast cancer. With a grant from the nonprofit foundation, a consortium of researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine and Boston University is looking at how certain chemicals in the environment can transform healthy cells into cancer cells that often proliferate despite treatment.

The foundation recently awarded $40,000 to each member of the consortium. The foundation's longer term goal is to raise $5 million to fund the group's work.

Anbinder says her mission is to find out if prevention is possible. "We can't answer that question until we know what the causes are."