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Environmental Factor, June 2012

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Breast cancer advocacy group honors NIEHS

By Ed Kang

Gwen Collman, Ph.D., and BCF Chief Executive Officer Jeanne Rizzo

Collman, left, joined Rizzo at the Heroes Award celebration. In receiving the award on behalf of the Institute, Collman recounted the long relationship that began with former NIEHS Director Ken Olden, Ph.D., and BCF founder Andrea Martin. (Photo courtesy of Bennett Sell-Kline)

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

In her videotaped remarks, Birnbaum acknowledged the many people behind the scenes working on breast cancer-related research. She said, “Our dedicated staff and thousands of grantees do a tremendous job every day to make our lives, our homes, and our communities healthier and safer.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The Breast Cancer Fund (BCF), a California-based breast cancer advocacy organization, celebrated its 20th anniversary May 15, by honoring NIEHS and Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., with its Heroes Award. The annual distinction recognizes groundbreaking research and dedication towards eliminating the environmental causes of breast cancer. A gala event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco spotlighted the contributions of the Institute and more than 50 prior Heroes Award recipients, many of whom were in attendance. 

BCF Chief Executive Officer Jeanne Rizzo, who is also an appointed member of the National Institutes of Health Interagency Breast Cancer and Environment Research Coordinating Committee and a member of the NIEHS Public Interest Partners, emceed the event. In announcing NIEHS as the 2012 Science Hero awardee, she said, “NIEHS and NTP are key to our understanding of the role of environmental exposures in breast cancer risk. The Breast Cancer Fund heralds NIEHS’s contributions, which will ultimately prevent many breast cancers.”  

A partnership of scientists and advocates

Birnbaum was not available to receive the award in person but, in her videotaped remarks, she accepted the Breast Cancer Fund award by saying, “Solving the mysteries of breast cancer has been a research priority for us and, for that, I’m extremely proud to be representing NIEHS.” She further committed to continue the relationship with advocates and communities to prevent breast cancer from environmental contributors. 

Watch as Birnbaum describes the NIEHS and NTP commitment to solving the mysteries of breast cancer (4:44)


In Birnbaum’s absence, Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, was on hand to thank the audience of more than 550 attendees, and to highlight the relationship between NIEHS and the Breast Cancer Fund, which has grown more deeply over time. “Over the years, our organizations have found many ways to advise each other and to look for opportunities for collaboration, as the advocacy community has become more integrated in the development, implementation, and dissemination of scientific research.”

She also referred to the strong relationships and mutual appreciation for each other’s work as a paradigm to be emulated. “I think the advocates see the advantages of learning about the science,” Collman remarked. “And our scientists can learn about what it means to be a survivor and how important it is to get a diversity of voices around the table.”

Collman concluded by thanking the advocacy community for their immeasurable contributions to the research process, and mirrored Birnbaum’s sentiments by highlighting the commitment to work together as a community to more fully understand the causes of breast cancer.

Prior winners of the Breast Cancer Fund Heroes Award include philanthropist Teresa Heinz, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), actor Jill Eikenberry, and dozens of other notable advocates, scientists, and politicians.

(Ed Kang is a public affairs specialist in the Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

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