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BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The Aveda Award

Area(s) of Focus

Regina M. Santella, PhD

Professor and Vice Dean for Faculty Affairs and Research and Environmental Health Sciences
Director, Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan
Director, Cancer Epidemiology Program, Herbert Irving Cancer Center
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
New York, New York

Current Research

Family history is a known risk factor for breast cancer, but few breast cancers within families can be explained by known gene mutations, such as mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Drs. Santella and Terry are pursuing multiple approaches to better understand breast cancer risk in high-risk families. Their studies are based in the Breast Cancer Family Registry (BCFR), a cohort of families at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer, and in LEGACY, a cohort of young girls from these high risk families as well as from average risk families. In the coming year they will carry out pilot studies in women from the BCFR study using biomarkers of exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), one of the most prevalent environmental pollutants known to cause cancer by damaging DNA. They hope to determine whether exposure to these compounds is associated with breast cancer risk and continue to expand their ongoing studies of PAH exposure in the young girls enrolled in the LEGACY study. Utlimately, their goal is to improve risk prediction and modification by incorporating biomarker data into current risk models.


Regina M. Santella, PhD, is a Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, and Director of the NIEHS Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan. She is a laboratory-based biochemist with extensive experience in the area of chemical carcinogenesis and molecular epidemiology. Her research is mainly focused on the use of biomarkers of exposure and genetic susceptibility to understand risk for cancer development. Her laboratory has developed antibodies and immunoassays to a number of carcinogen-DNA and protein adducts and uses these methods to determine exposure to environmental carcinogens. Other assays have been used to understand genetic susceptibility related to DNA repair capacity. More recently, her laboratory is investigating the use of epigenetic markers including global and gene specific methylation and microRNA expression in breast tumors and white blood cells to identify those at increased risk or as early biomarkers of disease. Breast cancer studies take advantage of two large sample banks, the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project, a population-based case-control study and the Breast Cancer Family Registry of members of high risk families.