Our research programme is currently on hold due to COVID-19 but we took this downtime opportunity to catch up with Dr Elisabete Silva to learn more about her motivations to become a scientist and her current Breast Cancer UK funded research project.

Originally, Elisabete Silva had planned to be a pharmacist in her home country of Portugal when her life took a different turn. It was on her pharmacy course, when she came to the UK to study, where she began to become interested in toxic chemicals and the way they affect the body, and from here she decided that this was far more interesting than life behind a pharmacy counter.

Her passion was shaped by the fact there are many chemicals society still knows nothing about and yet continues to use. “Take the pesticide DDT, for example,” says Elisabete. “It was banned 30 years ago and yet most of us still have traces of it or one of its metabolites, in our bodies. That’s how long it stays in the system for.”

Her career was also shaped by personal factors. The women in Elisabete’s family had a long history of breast cancer, and she’d become interested in how certain toxic chemicals can lead to an increased proliferation of breast cancer cells.

It was these specific chemicals, which disrupt the endocrine system (hormonal system) by mimicking female hormones, that turned her into a ‘research detective’.

“What I found most interesting, was that scientists had been studying these individual chemicals on their own for a while and had concluded there was no significant evidence they were harmful to the body.,” says Elisabete. “But what they did less of, was to investigate how combinations of chemicals impacted human health.  They also didn’t investigate how these chemicals could act together with other risk factors, such as a high fat diet, to increase the risk of diseases like breast cancer.”

It was an equation that she wanted to solve. High saturated fat has a link to obesity. And obesity not only has a link to breast cancer, but these fatty cells are more likely to absorb and retain chemicals too; especially those with links to breast cancer. And Elisabete’s current research is aiming to discover whether certain hormone disrupting chemicals found in everyday products, when combined with a high fat diet, makes women more prone to breast cancer.

Elisabete’s current research is also using cutting edge techniques. Elisabete says: “I was really pleased to hook up with a group of bioengineers who could help me with an exciting new technique called Organ-on-Chip”.  This is a type of platform, a little smaller than a Post-It note, which allows the cell cultures to grow in 3D rather than flat. Also, the ‘chip’ allows a constant flow of nutrients and communication between different cells, making them think they are still in the body.  “So, in the case of our research,  the cells actually think they are in the breast – and behave like they are in the breast!” she says.

Elisabete’s work has made her passionate about doing the most she can to avoid harmful chemicals in her daily life. During pregnancy she avoided all potentially harmful chemicals, to protect her unborn son, who is now eleven. These days she does her best to steer clear from cosmetics and consumer goods that may contain hormone disrupting chemicals and uses very natural products on her skin. However, she believes strongly it’s the responsibility of policy makers to keep people safe from harmful chemicals that may have links to breast cancer. “It shouldn’t be the responsibility of consumers to wonder whether what they are buying is safe or not.” she says.

Elisabete’s research, at Brunel University, will take two years and will resume when the laboratory where she works reopens following the Covid-19 Pandemic.


Without your support our scientific research would not be possible, DONATE TODAY and help fund vital research to prevent more people being diagnosed with this terrible disease. Thank you.


Related Articles

28 August 2020

It’s walkies time!

Breast Cancer UK launched Paws for Prevention, a dog walking campaign, to raise vital funds to prevent breast cancer and to inspire people to get active with their four legged...

Read full story

28 April 2020

Meet the scientists: Kerri Palmer

PhD student Kerri is working hard to find better ways to prevent breast cancer thanks to your generous donations. We caught up with her recently to see how she’s getting on.  Why...

Read full story

6 March 2020

Women scientists rock!

To celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), and to mark the start of British science week, we wanted to give a shout out to all the female scientists out there, working...

Read full story

14 February 2020

An Alternative Valentine’s Day Celebration

It’s that time of year again, when every shop window display turns red and you can’t get a table at a restaurant for love nor money! Yes, it’s Valentine’s...

Read full story

A donation of just £10 can help us reach out to new mums with educational information and guidance on how they can protect the future health of their children.

Donate £10

A donation of £25 can help provide a Breast Cancer Prevention kit to help our Ambassadors deliver talks, providing healthy lifestyle advice and practical tips that can help people reduce their risk of breast cancer.

Donate £25

Your donation of £100 can help train one of our PhD students, who work on vital research which aims to understand the causes of breast cancer and identify risk factors.

Donate £100

Just want to help in some way? donate an amount that feels right for you

Start Your Donation

Donate Now

Make a Donation


My One Time Donation

I want to make a one time donation of

Thank you. You’re just a few steps away from completing your donation.

+25% with Gift Aid

If you are a UK taxpayer, the value of your gift can be increased by 25% under the Gift Aid scheme at no extra cost to you.

This means that your donation of £100.00 could be worth an extra £25.00 to us, and it doesn't cost you a penny!

My Monthly Donation

I want to make a monthly donation of

Thank you. You’re just a few steps away from completing your donation.

+25% with Gift Aid

If you are a UK taxpayer, the value of your gift can be increased by 25% under the Gift Aid scheme at no extra cost to you.

This means that your donation of £100.00 could be worth an extra £25.00 to us, and it doesn't cost you a penny!

One Time Donation Monthly Donation
Make a donation with Gift Aid

Gift Aid is reclaimed by the Breast Cancer UK from the tax that I pay for the current tax year. If I pay less Income Tax and/or Capital Gains Tax than the amount of Gift Aid claimed on all my donations, it is my responsibility to pay any difference. Breast Cancer UK will reclaim 25p in tax back for every £1 I donate.

Your payment details

Donation Allocation (Optional)

Additional Comments (Optional)

Stay in Touch

We’d love to keep you posted on how your support can make a difference to Breast Cancer UK and the exciting ways you can support us in the future.

Please tick if you’re happy to receive information from us by:

By completing an online donation, your data will be handled in accordance with the Breast Cancer UK’s privacy policy, and the privacy policy of our payment processing supplier BBMS (a Blackbaud company).

Thank You Wall

If you donate over £50, as a way of saying thank you for your donation, we would like to feature your donation on our virtual thank you wall on our website.

Donations will only feature on the wall for up to two months depending on the level of donations we receive.

You must fill out all required fields before paying.


Need help making your donation?

If you need help to make a donation or have any questions about making one, please contact us…

Call 08456801322