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Wednesday, 14 March 2007

UCSF Fellow Honored for Cancer Prevention Research

UCSF Fellow Dejana Braithwaite, PhD, MSc, is the 2007 recipient of the American Society of Preventive Oncology (ASPO) and the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation (CRPF) Fellowship, and the New Investigator Award for the 31st Annual ASPO Meeting.

Braithwaite was selected from a national pool of applicants for the ASPO/CRPF Fellowship, which is granted to an outstanding young scientist for an original research topic that has potential to make an impact on cancer prevention and control. She will receive the $80,000 grant for her project, titled “Adverse Social Environment, Adiposity, and Risk of Early Breast Development.”

The ASPO was founded in 1976 with a mission to promote the exchange and dissemination of information and ideas relating to cancer prevention, particularly by stimulating and encouraging research on the causes of human cancer and its prevention and early detection, as well as, fostering and enhancing the training of scientists and clinicians concerned with preventive oncology. Founded by Carolyn Aldigé, the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation promotes prevention and early detection of cancer through scientific research, education and community outreach.

Braithwaite received a PhD degree in biobehavioral science, with a focus on breast cancer prevention, from the Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, UK, in 2004. She is currently a third-year postdoctoral fellow in epidemiology working under the mentorship of Robert A. Hiatt, MD, PhD, director of population sciences at the UCSF Cancer Center and professor and co-chair in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Braithwaite joined Hiatt to investigate emerging issues in breast cancer etiology. As part of the Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center, Hiatt and colleagues are already making significant strides to determine the pathways, in both animal and human models, by which early life exposures may lead to mammary carcinogenesis. Complementary studies are underway in Cincinnati, New York City and East Lansing, MI.

Dejana Braithwaite, PhD, MSc

Carolyn Aldige, president of the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation, left, presented a new investigator award to postdoctoral fellow Dejana Braithwaite while her mentor, Robert A. Hiatt, director of Population Sciences at the UCSF Cancer Center and co-chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, looks on.

Supported by pilot funding from the UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health and Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center, Braithwaite was able to pursue her own research question concerning possible disparities in socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity in relation to an early activation of menarche and subsequent breast cancer. “We aspire to shed new light on early life exposures that can account for disparities in pubertal timing and breast cancer, such as adverse social circumstances and adiposity. It is a simple goal and a high ambition. I am especially grateful to Dixie Horning and Dr. Nancy Milliken of the UCSF National Center of Excellence (CoE) in Women’s Health for the early seed money and support that catalyzed my research career. Without this, I would not be able to take my endeavors to the next level of this important issue affecting young girls and women,” says Braithwaite.

Under the guidance of Hiatt and in collaboration with UCSF colleagues Dan Moore, PhD, and Robert Lustig, MD, and colleagues from the University of Arizona, University of Cambridge and UC Berkeley, Braithwaite analyzed data from the National Growth and Health prospective cohort study of 1,166 white and 1,213 African American girls, who were followed through puberty. Not only did her team find that white girls, unlike African American girls, tended to have earlier age at menarche with decreasing socioeconomic prosperity, but this association appeared to work through adiposity.

“We believe that developing the next generation of leaders in women’s health research is the key to advancing knowledge in this historically neglected area of research,” says Milliken, MD, director of the CoE. “Braithwaite’s research is exciting because it expands our understanding of the etiology of breast cancer to adolescence, where hopefully we will be able to develop earlier prevention strategies.”

“Given the established link between early menarche and breast cancer risk, our findings may have important consequences for explaining how environmental factors might influence breast cancer at the time of breast development,” says Hiatt. “It could translate into a better understanding of the unequal burden of breast cancer. I anticipate that our findings will further spur our thinking and guide our research strategy in the years ahead. Our interdisciplinary team of investigators is looking for ways to use this new knowledge to prevent breast cancer, particularly among vulnerable populations.”

Photo/Heidi Sahel


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