G.N. Breast Cancer Coalition students research links to breast cancer

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G.N. Breast Cancer Coalition students research links to breast cancer

For the past 12 years, the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition has been sending high school students to laboratories and research facilities across the Northeast to study environmental links to breast cancer and breast cancer prevention.
On Monday night at the Great Neck House, seven of the coalition’s research program students presented their findings while interning at various research facilities.
Laura Weinberg, president of the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition, said when students show up on their orientation day, they look like “deer in the headlights” when told what they’d be researching.
But once they return from their internships, Weinberg said, that all changes.
“They come back from these laboratory experiences like scientists,” she said.
This summer, Kayla Lieb and Stacy Okin, who attend North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, interned with Dr. Laura Vandenberg at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Lieb and Okin conducted biological research on endocrine disrupting chemicals and their effect on the mammary gland.
Those chemicals can interfere with hormone systems and cause cancerous tumors or other developmental disorders.
Lieb and Okin discussed Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is commonly used in plastics and has been linked to breast cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lieb said an important part of their work was to inform the public on chemicals in products that have adverse effects on women and their children.
“It’s important because the general population does not know nearly as much as we need to,” she said. “Personally, I didn’t really know any of this until I went to this amazing internship.
“Chemicals are a billion dollar industry and it’s not going to take one person to change something, it’s going to take a lot of people and a lot of science research done,” Lieb added.
Lisa Levine, vice president for education of the coalition, said in 2012, the coalition began sending students to “green chemistry” labs.
“Green chemistry is a relatively new science that actually looks at replacing some of these chemicals with safer alternatives,” Levine said.
This summer, four students interned at Dr. Richard Gross’ green chemistry lab at  Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Elan Itschakov, who attends North Shore Hebrew Academy, Mohammad Samroz and Adrian-James Gevero, who attend Sewanhaka High School, and Dorothy Liu, who attends Great Neck South High School, all interned at Gross’ lab.
Itschakov conducted biological research on developing safer alternatives to toxic surfactants, or compounds that lower the surface tension between two liquids, which are linked to breast cancer and are found in cosmetic products.
Samroz and Gevero conducted similar research on developing safer alternatives to toxins linked to breast cancer in products.
Liu, who was unable to attend Monday’s presentation, researched different materials designed for nontoxic tissue engineering.
“These materials can revolutionize surgery for cancer, especially breast reconstruction surgery by making it more easier and efficient,” Weinberg said in explanation of Liu’s research.
A Sewanhaka High School student, Sayo Ogunleye, interned with Dr. Mary Beth Terry at a research facility at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
Ogunleye conducted research on environmental exposures and breast cancer, specifically the effect a diet can have on getting breast cancer.
She said that a person’s diet can be responsible for 30 to 40 percent of cancers and that those with a family history of breast cancer should keep track of their omega-3 fatty acid intake.
“I really did enjoy this experience. It was very interesting,” Ogunleye said. “I learned so much about research and everything.”
Weinberg said the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition has sent 52 students to internships at 10 different research facilities since the research program’s inception 12 years ago.
She also said the coalition has received grants from state Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel and state Sen. Jack Martins, which helped fund the student research program.
Nassau County Legislator Ellen Birnbaum, whose mother died from breast cancer, attended the presentation and gave each student a citation from the county and from Schimel and Martins.
“I’m always interested in hearing the new studies,” Birnbaum said. “The way all of you presented yourselves, you really are to be commended.”

By Joe Nikic

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