The research conducted by the centers revolves around the hypothesis that there are periods of vulnerability in the development of the mammary gland when exposures to environmental agents may impact the breast in ways that can influence breast cancer risk in adulthood. The centers are working in close collaboration to pursue two specific approaches to this hypothesis:
1) use basic science techniques in laboratory animals and cell cultures and
2) use epidemiologic studies in human populations.
The goals of the laboratory research project are to conduct collaborative experiments using animal and cell culture models to characterize the molecular basis of the mammary gland over the lifespan and to determine how this development may be affected by exposure to environmental agents.
The epidemiologic study is examining the environmental and genetic determinants of puberty by prospectively following several cohorts of young girls to determine how hormonal changes, obesity, diet, family history, psychosocial stressors, environmental exposures, and genetic polymorphisms, among other factors, may interact to control mammary gland development and other landmarks of puberty.
Information derived from the basic science study will be used to help select relevant human genetic polymorphisms to be studied. Interactions between environmental agents and the genes that affect their susceptibility will be explored.
Each of the four BCERC centers, University of Cincinnati, Michigan State, Fox Chase Cancer Center, and University of California-San Francisco (UCSF), have their own epidemiology and basic sciences projects and community outreach and translation core (COTC) that address center-specific hypotheses on pubertal development and breast cancer, with the exception of Michigan State which has a basic science project and COTC.
The individual centers have their own center-specific aims, but the BCERC project as a whole also has overarching aims. The epidemiology, biology, and COTC groups of each center team up to form cross-center working groups in their specific project areas.