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Bay Area Community Forum
Breast Cancer and the Environment
November 18, 2009
NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum headlined a rousing, and at times, emotional public forum convened at historic Fort Baker. Attendees were mostly members of a concerned community struggling with a disease Birnbaum labeled in her opening remarks as "our common enemy — an equal opportunity killer."
Introduced by Robert Hiatt, M.D., Ph.D., director of Population Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco Comprehensive Cancer Center, Birnbaum spoke of the "state of the science" of breast cancer research, and also joined a distinguished panel in initiating a frank and open discussion about community needs in ongoing breast cancer research.
Moderated by noted television reporter, Ysabel Duron, a breast cancer survivor and inductee into the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Hall of Fame, the panel of speakers (221KB) featured leaders in various disciplines. Joining Birnbaum and Hiatt on the dais were Gwen Collman, Ph.D., interim director of the Division of Extramural Research and Training at NIEHS; Janice Barlow, M.S.N., executive director of Zero Breast Cancer; Rupali Das, M.D., chief of the Exposure Assessment Section in the Environmental Health Investigations Branch of the California Department of Public Heath; Peggy Reynolds, Ph.D., senior research scientist at the Northern California Cancer Center; and Jeanne Rizzo, R.N., president and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund. The combined influence of these renowned experts shed light on different aspects of breast cancer from basic research to advocacy to education and prevention.
Public participation is always encouraged at these kinds of meetings and other forums. "It provides an opportunity for feedback," Barlow said. "It does change the direction of the research and the relevance to the community; plus, when [the community is] involved from the beginning, it has an influence on the questions that are being asked." Birnbaum added, "We need input from communities in setting science agenda and in fostering positive partnerships. Together with my institute's partners and grantees, we will solidify our coalition in the national effort to keep the science moving forward."
Birnbaum's closing comments summarized the discussion with partners, grantees, community leaders and advocates. "I look forward to the day when I can stand here with all of our partners to say, 'We did it. We know how it happens, and we can stop it.' That day will come. Until then, we will continue the hard work." In borrowing a familiar concept, she added, "Knowledge is power," a simple but powerful adage that in the context of cancer and disease prevention takes on deliberate new meaning.
Wisconsin Town Meeting
Environmental Health in Milwaukee
October 1, 2009
At the Milwaukee Town Meeting, Linda Birnbaum set the stage for a panel discussion by environmental public health specialists and city and regional officials. Birnbaum began her presentation with impressions from the afternoon trolley tour of the city — recounting the neighborhoods, gardens and river valley industrial brownfield sites she saw that day to emphasize the interconnectedness of the environment with public health and quality of life.
In her talk, Birnbaum highlighted "some of the outstanding work that NIEHS is supporting here at UW-Milwaukee," including basic research into the biological mechanisms of toxicity, detection of freshwater viral, bacterial and chemical contaminants, and the innovative outreach initiative, Healthy Latino Families and Schools. She described work at UWM as an example of the productive mix of "'small science' conducted by individual labs" with the work of "'big science' teams, which may be needed to answer some of the most intractable questions."
Moving to the national and international levels, Birnbaum surveyed the institute's "larger research investment" in environmental health science, especially in research on the long-term health effects of early environmental exposures. She focused on new and renewed efforts to prevent disease through effective translation of research results into public health initiatives for improving children's health and development by preventing and treating chronic diseases.
Birnbaum's closing comments brought her back to the streets and neighborhoods of Milwaukee. "We look forward to supporting and working with scientists, health care providers and community members here in a great city on a great lake," she concluded, "to continue the success of this work, to better understand how the environment affects our health, and to develop effective prevention strategies to protect public health."
In closing, Birnbaum emphasized the pressing need for environmental health research. "You can't change your genes, but you can change your environment," she said. "The question is not, 'Can we afford to do this research?'" she said. "It's, 'Can we afford not to?'"
New Jersey Town Meeting
The Environment and Child Health
New Brunswick, N.J.
June 17, 2009
NIEHS scientists traveled to New Brunswick, N.J., in support of a June 17 Environmental and Child Health Town Meeting that included opening comments by NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum. The program was organized by the NIEHS Center for Environmental Exposures and Disease (CEED), which is housed in the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI) at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). The meeting was held at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick.
The event was an opportunity for Birnbaum, a native of New Jersey, to visit the city where NIEHS held its first town hall meeting in 1998. She told her audience at the evening session of the program that NIEHS is proud of its "long history of seeking involvement from a broad array of constituencies, including scientists, health care professionals and communities, in setting its research agenda and in fostering community-university partnerships to implement parts of that agenda."
"As we go forward, we want to make sure we are supporting the most important types of science, from 'small science' conducted by individual labs, which can be nimble and innovative, to 'big science' research teams, which may be needed to answer some of the most intractable questions," Birnbaum explained. "We will need to use a judicious mix of the best individual investigators, as well as the capabilities of research teams, to uncover all the complex ways in which environmental exposures work on biological systems with genetic and other host susceptibility mechanisms to affect health and disease."
An afternoon program of expert speakers opened with a welcome and introduction by UMDNJ Professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine Helmut Zarbl, Ph.D. , who is the principal investigator on the university's NIEHS Center grant. Zarbl was followed by talks by UMDNJ investigators on findings of their NIEHS-funded research. The presenters included Michael Gochfeld, M.D., Ph.D., Jason Richardson, Ph.D., Michael Gallo, Ph.D., and Kathy Black, Ph.D. They spoke on such environmental health topics as heavy metal exposure, neurological disorders linked to pesticides, endocrine disruption and breast cancer and childhood asthma. A poster session and reception followed.
The evening program opened with Birnbaum's comments and a brief panel session of local middle school students involved in the CEED Community Outreach and Engagement Program, leading into the highlight of the evening — a 90-minute panel session with scientists and environmental justice and public health advocates.
NIEHS Epidemiology Branch Staff Scientist Jane Hoppin, Sc.D., was one of the five members of the evening panel discussion. Hoppin described her research as part of the Agricultural Health Study and how "what we learn from farmers and their families [can be] relevant to the U.S. population as the chemicals used in agriculture are used for residential and public health purposes as well."
Hoppin was joined by two UMDNJ professors — Daniel Wartenberg, Ph.D., and Howard Kipen, M.D., MPH— as well as Elyse Pivnick, vice president of Environmental and Community Health at the non-profit organization Isles in Trenton, N.J., and Ana Baptista, Ph.D., program manager of the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark, N.J.