Our research

Current research

Our scientists spearhead animal-free research into prevention

Your support helps us fund new types of research into the causes of breast cancer. We work with scientists who undertake world-class research into how cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals increase the risk of breast cancer. Information on our current research is below.  

Bisphenols and breast cancer Research Details

Bisphenols and breast cancer risk: Unravelling the role of adipose tissue

Giorgia’s project aims to enhance the understanding of the relationship between bisphenol exposure, obesity, and breast cancer. The project will be investigating the processes within cells that could drive breast cancer onset and progression within adipose (fat) tissue, and how it responds to exposure to bisphenols. The research hopes to find better ways to prevent breast cancer by shedding light on how these chemicals affect our health. 

Lead researcher: Dr Giorgia Cioccoloni 

Bisphenols and breast cancer risk: Unravelling the role of adipose tissue.

Breast Cancer UK is delighted to announce we have awarded the Foundation Award 2024 to Dr Giorgia Cioccoloni, University of Leeds (£144,000). Giorgia’s exciting work will explore how a group of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), known as bisphenols, might make changes to the body’s fat cells that may help breast cancer to grow. Our Foundation Award funds scientists who are early in their careers, and we are thrilled to be supporting a new generation of breast cancer scientists.    

Project details 

The study explores how exposure to chemicals called bisphenols, which we often come across in everyday items, might be linked to obesity and the risk of getting breast cancer. Giorgia’s team are trying to understand how these chemicals could make changes in the body’s fat cells that might help cancer start and grow.  

Bisphenols can affect the body in different ways, some of which might make it easier for cancer to develop. Fat cells can store these chemicals and also play a role in how the body stores fat , which could create an environment that allows breast cancer to start and spread. 

Giorgia’s research has two main goals: first, to see how breast cells change after they come into contact with fat cells that have been exposed to bisphenols; and second, to figure out exactly how these changes happen.  

Phthalates, Parabens and breast cancer Research Details

The influence of phthalates and parabens on normal breast tissue and their role in breast cancer risk

Hannah’s project will be investigating the effect of phthalates and parabens on normal breast tissue using novel laboratory-based models. By treating normal tissue, taken from patients that have had surgery, it is hoped that the research will establish how these chemicals affect cells and how they may help to drive the development of breast cancer. This research hopes to add to the growing body of evidence in the field which will allow us to better address the use of EDCs in everyday products.  

Lead researcher: Dr Hannah Harrison 

 

The influence of phthalates and parabens on normal breast tissue and their role in breast cancer risk 

Breast Cancer UK is delighted to announce we have awarded the Seed Award 2024 to Dr Hannah Harrison, University of Manchester (£25,000). Hannah’s work will investigate how two groups of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), phthalates and parabens, can affect normal breast tissue, and how these chemicals may contribute to breast cancer risk. Our Seed Award supports scientists who require funding as a top-up for a project close to completion, to obtain a specific piece of equipment, or to fund a pilot project focused on chemicals and breast cancer risk.   

Project details 

Hannah’s group has developed a novel laboratory-based model in which normal breast tissue, taken from patients following risk reduction surgery, can be cultured without losing its characteristic structures and cellular makeup. This model allows the team to expose normal human breast tissue to the commonly used EDCs phthalates and parabens, and to ask what changes are seen that could indicate a carcinogenic effect. Hannah’s team will assess the effects that these chemicals have on the rate of cell growth and death within the breast, the breast tissue structure (including the cell types within it), as well as looking at any damage caused to the DNA. 

PFAS and Breast Cancer Research Details

Investigating effects of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances on breast cancer development

This project aims to investigate whether PFAS (“forever chemicals”) play a role in breast cancer development and determine whether microplastics that can leach PFAS are found in breast tissue. Normal breast cells will be exposed to PFAS at levels found in the blood and then be assessed for characteristics often found in cancerous cells. The effect of long and short-term exposure will be analysed to see what changes occur immediately and which develop over time. Breast tissue from patients will also be analysed for microplastics.

Lead researcher: Dr Mark Wade

Investigating effects of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances on breast cancer development. 

Breast Cancer UK is pleased to announce we have awarded a grant of £99,272.48 to Dr Mark Wade and colleague Prof Jeanette Rotchell, University of Hull, to fund a PhD studentship that will investigate whether PFASs play a role in breast cancer development and determine whether microplastics that can leach PFASs are found in breast tissue.

Project details

As well as genetic predisposition and lifestyle factors, exposure to environmental contaminants increase breast cancer risk. However, in many cases, how these contaminants influence breast cancer development is less well understood. Microplastics are small plastic materials that have entered the environment via industrial practices or have been degraded from plastics used in consumer products.

We know microplastics are present in our gut, blood, and can be breathed into the lungs. Microplastics are a potential source of harmful chemicals in our body, as they can stick to microplastics and then leach off them into the surrounding environment. A group of synthetic environmental toxins, called per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are known to stick to, and leach from, microplastics. However, the role of PFAS in health and disease is poorly understood. PFAS are of particular concern as they are used in consumer goods, are found in the environment and have been detected in humans.

This project will:

  • investigate whether PFAS play a role in breast cancer development – normal breast cells will be exposed to PFAS at levels found in the blood and then assessed for characteristics often found in cancerous cells. The effect of long and short-term exposure will be analysed to see what changes occur immediately and which develop over time.
  • determine whether microplastics that can leach PFAS are found in breast tissue – world-leading microscopy techniques will be used to analyse breast tissue donated by patients to see whether microplastics are present in the breast. This study will provide insight into the extent of microplastic contamination within the human body and will greatly enhance our understanding of whether PFASs can cause breast cancer.
EDCs in breast cancer Research Details

Measurement of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in breast cancer

This project aims to assess the potential risks arising from endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) found in everyday products that can potentially lead to or promote breast cancer. Frozen breast cancer samples will be screened for oestrogen-like chemical pollutants. Cancer and non-cancerous fatty tissue from the same breast will be analysed. The results will be used to assess if there is a connection between the amount and type of oestrogen-like chemical pollutants detected and breast cancer growth and spread.

Lead researcher: Dr Michael Antoniou

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Measurement of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in breast cancer

Breast Cancer UK is pleased to announce that we have awarded a grant of £100,000 to Dr Michael Antoniou and colleagues Cheryl Gillett and Francesca Mazzacuva, King’s College London, to assess the potential risks arising from endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) found in everyday products that can potentially lead to or promote breast cancer.

Project details

The growth of most breast cancers is dependent on the presence of the hormone oestrogen. As a result, exposure to chemical pollutants that mimic the action of oestrogen has been found to stimulate breast cancer growth. The aim of this project is to evaluate the presence of a broad range of oestrogen-like chemical pollutants in breast cancers. Chemical pollutants with oestrogen-like activity include:

  • bisphenol and phthalate plasticisers used in food and drink packaging
  • chemicals used in lotions to protect against sunburn
  • parabens used as preservatives in foods, toiletries and cosmetics
  • poly/perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used in non-stick coatings, polishes, fire-retardant foams and stain-repellent finishes for fabrics
  • some insecticides used in agricultural food production.

People are exposed to oestrogen-like chemical pollutants from multiple sources on a daily basis. Oestrogen-like chemical pollutants can build up in the fatty tissue part of the breast where they can fuel breast cancer growth.

The aim of this project is to screen frozen breast cancer samples for a broad range of oestrogen-like chemical pollutants. Both the cancer and non-cancerous fatty tissue from the same breast will be analysed. The results will be checked against the medical records of the person with breast cancer from which the tissue was obtained to assess if there is a connection between the amount and type of oestrogen-like chemical pollutants detected and breast cancer growth and spread.

This study will identify potential risks arising from oestrogen-like chemical pollutants that can potentially lead to or promote the growth of breast cancer.

BPA and breast cancer Research Details

The effects of BPA on breast cancer development

This project will use different approaches to identify conclusively whether there is a link between exposure to bisphenol (BPA) and breast cancer development in women. These include a literature review on how BPA affects breast tissue, a computer analysis of cancer-related gene databanks to identify genes regulated by BPA, laboratory experiments to see if BPA-sensitive genes contribute to breast cancer development and measurements of BPA in plasma samples from breast cancer patients.

Lead researcher: Professor Valerie Speirs

 

Evaluating the effects of bisphenol A on breast cancer development 

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

Background 

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 bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to make many plastics and resins for nearly 60 years. BPA is present in lots of everyday products, foods and drinks at low concentrations. Scientists worry about BPA because it is linked with increased disease risks. 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.  

Project details 

This project will build on information obtained during our current BCUK-funded work. We will discover if there are links between exposure to BPA and breast cancer development in women, using a range of approaches made possible by the team of experts we have assembled to tackle this problem. We will start with a thorough review of the scientific literature to identify possible ways that BPA acts on breast tissue. At the same time, we will “mine” the data in large cancer-related gene databanks. We will combine the information we harvest to design laboratory experiments that will confirm if BPA-sensitive genes contribute to breast cancer development. This will then help us discover if levels of these BPA-sensitive genes in a woman’s breast will affect whether she will suffer from more dangerous, aggressive, breast cancer. To join these findings together we will measure BPA in tissue samples donated by breast cancer patients. This will confirm if there is a relationship between BPA levels and breast cancer. This project will provide conclusive evidence surrounding the role of BPA in breast cancer. 

Bisphenol mixtures and breast cancer Research Details

Biomonitoring and molecular toxicity profiling of bisphenol mixtures

The project aims to identify any potential risks associated with bisphenols (used as BPA substitutes) that potentially lead to, or promote, growth of breast cancer. A biomonitoring study will be carried out on a UK human population to detect and quantify levels of different bisphenols most frequently detected in foodstuffs. The work will also evaluate the potential breast cancer initiating and growth promoting activities of a mixture of bisphenols, using human breast epithelial cells.

Lead researcher: Dr Michael Antoniou

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Biomonitoring and molecular toxicity profiling of bisphenol mixtures   

Breast Cancer UK is pleased to announce we have awarded a grant of £100,000 to Dr Michael Antoniou and colleagues Dr Robin Mesnage and Dr Ana Rodriguez-Mateos, King’s College London, to fund a PhD studentship which 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 expected to begin March 2022.

Project details 

Chemical exposure that interferes within 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 proposal is to evaluate the breast cancer promoting activity of mixtures of oestrogenic pollutants known as bisphenols.   

Bisphenols are used in the manufacture of plastic bottles, resins and the plastic lining of cans, from which they leach into food and drink. Bisphenol A (BPA) is the prototypical member of this class of plastics components, which is now known to mimic the effects of oestrogen. Due to public concerns, industry has been replacing BPA with other bisphenol compounds to produce so called “BPA-free” products. However, our Breast Cancer UK sponsored work has revealed that bisphenols used as BPA replacements also possess oestrogen hormone-like activity with some being more potent than BPA, and which fuel breast cancer cell growth. However, the exact mechanisms by which bisphenol mixtures may stimulate the development and progression of breast cancer remain unknown. In addition, bisphenol mixtures to which the UK population is exposed daily is unknown.    

This project will further investigate the connection between bisphenol mixture exposure and breast cancer by undertaking two lines of research. First, we will analyse the urine of UK residents to identify which bisphenols people ingest. Second, we will evaluate the breast cancer-causing and promoting potential of realistic cocktails of bisphenols by assessing their ability to stimulate the growth of normal human mammary epithelial cells and alter these cells’ characteristics to a cancerous state.   

This study will identify potential risks arising from bisphenol ingestion that can potentially lead to, or promote growth of, breast cancer.  

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As desperate as we are to understand the causes of breast cancer, we firmly believe that this can be done without harm to animals. Please donate today to help our scientists undertake world-class research. Thank you.