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June 2009 Issue

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Researcher Honored for Work With Environment and Cancer

By Amanda Harper
Published June 2009

In her work at the Cincinnati Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center (BCERC), Kathryn Brown, PhD, has become a steward for partnership between advocates and scientists to help advance research on links between the environment and cancer.

As the principal investigator of the community outreach and translational core for the Cincinnati BCERC, Brown works to educate breast cancer survivors and advocates and incorporate them in the research process.

She recently received the Linda K. Heines Award of Hope for her efforts at the Breast Cancer Alliance (BCA) of Greater Cincinnati’s 14th Annual Survivorship Celebration held April 18.

The award, named for the BCA’s first president, is bestowed annually to a person who has given hope to others in the fight against breast cancer, and whose work exemplifies the organization’s mission: making breast cancer issues a top priority in the public and private sectors through advocacy, education and communication.

“In the past six years, no one has been a stronger advocate for advocates than Katie Brown. She insisted that we have equal representation in the BCERC to ensure that our voices are heard and respected by the scientists studying this disease,” says Ann Hernick, BCA board member and breast cancer survivor.

“Because of Katie’s diligence, advocates who volunteer with the BCERC have learned a great deal about breast cancer and have been offered opportunities to collaborate, plan and suggest research ideas. It’s a great partnership.”

Established in 2003, the Cincinnati BCERC—one of only four such centers in the nation—is a joint research effort between the UC College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The BCERC’s research focuses on the potential links between environmental factors, puberty and breast cancer, and on educating the community about its findings.

“The breast cancer advocacy community has been engaged in the Cincinnati BCERC and the network of centers since we wrote the grant proposal. And the BCA has been a key partner in the Cincinnati center,” says Brown, who is a research assistant professor of environmental health at UC. “This award recognizes and celebrates our work together over six-plus years.”

BCA board member Sara Paxton says she knew from the first time she met the BCERC researchers that Brown was one of the reasons the center would be a success: “She’s an organizer, advocator, collaborator, communicator and detail-guru who makes sure things get done. She’s never off duty and she’s dedicated to making the public more aware of breast cancer.”

Brown is in charge of developing educational materials and programs to explain BCERC’s research methods and findings to the lay public. She says the volunteer breast cancer advocates have been critical to the center’s educational outreach efforts.

“I’m inspired by our advocate partners’ ingenuity, insightfulness and commitment to research and community education. I am fortunate and proud to work with such intelligent and driven women.”

The advocate-scientist working relationship has resulted in numerous unique materials and programs, including an annual educational forum on breast cancer and the environment for the public and production of a coloring book for “Growing Up Female” participants, a BCERC epidemiologic study

that focuses on environmental and genetic factors contributing to early-onset puberty.

Advocates also serve as “Growing Up Female” helpers, where they help engage girls at study visits to maximize protocol efficiency.

In 2007, the BCERC and BCA partnered to conduct a hands-on research training session to help breast cancer advocates decipher what scientists mean when they talk about statistical analysis, immunochemistry, “whole mounting” tissue samples and an array of other scientific concepts and procedures.

 The primary objective of the advocate research training was to reduce some of these barriers by offering a local science course that could be completed in a half-day at no cost.

For more information on the Cincinnati BCERC, visit www.eh.uc.edu/growingupfemale. 

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