28 October, 2021

At Breast Cancer UK, we are proud to be the only UK cancer charity funding animal-free research investigating the links between breast cancer and harmful chemicals found in everyday products and the environment.  

To celebrate the final week of breast cancer awareness month and our commitment to supporting scientific research into the causes of breast cancer, we are delighted to announce the awarding of two new research grants totalling almost £200,000. The research projects will be led by Professor Valerie Speirs, and by Dr Michael Antoniou, and will fund two three-year PhD studentships, whose research will investigate the effects of bisphenols on breast cancer risk. 

Research Projects  

1. Evaluating the effects of Bisphenol A on breast cancer development 

A grant of £99,272 was awarded to Professor Valerie Speirs, Professor Paul Fowler, Dr Felix Grassman, Ms Beatrix Elsberger and Mr Yazan Masannat from the University of Aberdeen, to fund a PhD studentship examining the effects of bisphenol A (BPA) on breast cancer development. The project is expected to begin in March 2022. 

Details of the project 

Hormones, especially oestrogen, can influence the development of breast cancer. Exposure to naturally occurring hormones is unavoidable. However, we can take steps to reduce exposure to synthetic chemicals which mimic oestrogen. One of these is BPA, a chemical used to make plastics and resins and is present in lots of everyday products. BPA can interfere with hormone-sensitive organs, like the breast. While a single exposure to BPA is unlikely to result in the development of breast cancer, repeated and frequent exposure to low concentrations of this chemical could contribute to the development of breast cancer. 

Professor Valerie Spiers and her colleagues will discover if there are links between exposure to BPA and breast cancer development in women. They will conduct a review of the scientific literature to identify ways BPA affects breast tissue. They will “mine” the data in large cancer-related gene databanks and combine the information they harvest to design laboratory experiments that will confirm if BPA-sensitive genes contribute to breast cancer development. The project will provide conclusive evidence surrounding the role of BPA in breast cancer. 

In response to the grant award, Professor Val Speirs said: 

As cancer now affects 1 in every 2 of us it is so important that we explore ways of preventing it developing in the first place. Breast cancer affects around 55 000 women and 400 men each year in the UK. Some of these breast cancers might be preventable. Our grant from Breast Cancer UK will allow us to gather scientific evidence to determine conclusively if a substance found in the environment, called BPA, does influence breast cancer development. We are delighted to have received this award and cannot wait for the project to get started.”  

2. Biomonitoring and molecular toxicity profiling of bisphenol mixtures   

 A grant of £100,000 was awarded to Dr Michael Antoniou, Dr Robin Mesnage and Dr Ana Rodriguez-Mateos, King’s College London, to fund a PhD studentship that will undertake biomonitoring of UK residents to identify levels of bisphenols and evaluate the potential breast cancer-initiating and growth-promoting activity of bisphenol mixtures. The project is also expected tcommence in March 2022.  

Details of the project 

Chemical exposure that interferes with the body’s hormone systems has been linked to breast cancer. Large numbers of pollutants can have oestrogen hormone-like activities and can stimulate breast cancer cell growth. The aim of this project will be to evaluate the breast cancer-promoting activity of bisphenol mixtures.  

Bisphenols are used in the manufacture of plastic bottles, resins and the plastic lining of cans, from which they leach into food and drink. Due to public concerns, companies have been replacing BPA with other bisphenols to produce “BPA-free” products. However, our research has revealed bisphenols used as BPA replacements also possess oestrogen hormone-like activity which fuel breast cancer cell growth. However, the mechanisms by which bisphenol mixtures may stimulate breast cancer development remains unknown. This study will identify potential risks arising from bisphenol ingestion that can lead to or promote the growth of breast cancer. 

In response to the grant award, Dr Michael Antoniou said:  

We are delighted to be able to continue our work with Breast Cancer UK under this new PhD studentship award. My research group and Breast Cancer UK share the same philosophy; that is, breast cancer prevention. With an emphasis on “prevention”, we have the common objective of identifying risk factors for breast cancer so that individuals can avoid them, and government regulations can be put in place to better protect the public. By further investigating the link between exposure to bisphenol plasticisers and breast cancer we anticipate that we will make major advances in achieving our common goals to lower the risks of anyone developing breast cancer.”  

Scientific evidence to help prevent breast cancer 

We have chosen bisphenols as a priority area of research for several reasons. It builds on our work when we campaigned successfully for a ban on BPA in baby bottles, and for a ban on its use in consumer products. BPA was identified as a substance of very high concern in 2017 and was banned in thermal paper in 2020. Yet BPA is still being replaced with other chemicals of concern that exert similar health effects.  

This research helps us outline to policymakers the need for robust regulation of harmful chemicals to strengthen public protection and support our goal of preventing breast cancer in current and future generations. 

Commenting on the projects, Breast Cancer UK Chief Executive, Thalie Martini said:  

“These two research projects are of vital importance in strengthening the evidence on the links between BPA and Bisphenol mixtures to breast cancer risk. This evidence will help advance our prevention work at Breast Cancer UK to inform both the public and policymakers of the urgent need to ban these harmful substances once and for all” 

For further information on our scientific research projects please visit: https://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/science/current-research/  

Chip in to fund the next research breakthrough 

If you share our concerns about the links between harmful chemicals and breast cancer, then please consider donating to help fund our next important project. By understanding the causes of breast cancer, we can reduce the chances of our loved ones catching it in the future.  

By donating now you can feel proud of helping our scientists to conduct their crucial work.  

Together we can prevent breast cancer!

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