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BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The Aveda Award

Area(s) of Focus

Regina M. Santella, PhD

Professor of Environmental Health Sciences
Vice Dean for Faculty Affairs and Research
Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan
Director, Cancer Epidemiology Program,
Herbert Irving Cancer Center
Columbia University
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. In the coming year they will begin a study to evaluate environmental exposure to a class of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) on breast cancer risk in young girls. Their other ongoing studies include assessment of DNA repair mechanisms as a potential screening modality for risk assessment, identification of blood-based biomarkers that can be used for early detection of breast cancer, and determining whether a chemical alteration of DNA, called DNA methylation, in high risk women differs from that in average risk women. Collectively, these studies may lead to better preventive and early detection strategies for women with a family history of breast cancer and concurrently advance our understanding of the impact of environmental exposure on breast cancer risk.


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.