Breast Research Updates


Springfield High School students experience breast cancer research and contemplate breast cancer healthcare disparities through the Baystate Springfield Educational Partnership. The following article is written by one of the student summer scholars in the program, Raechel Parent.

Health disparities in medicine have been a huge issue for many years now and according to the CDC defined as "preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations''. Specifically in research, health disparities can greatly affect the overall understanding of a condition or disease. We are interested in the disparities that are a result of lack of research into particular populations. While many disparities in this disease can be attributed to either socioeconomic differences or access to healthcare, some of the variances are also due to the fact that the vast majority of breast cancer research being performed today is on cells derived from Caucasian women. As we know, breast cancer is certainly not a disease that only affects Caucasian women, and differences in the rates of breast cancer subtypes from different parts of the world suggest that genetic background may contribute to some of the variation. For example, within Africa the rates of triple negative breast cancer are significantly higher in West Africa than East Africa, where the rates are more similar to those observed in the US. Thus, when tissues and cells from just one population are being studied, it leaves large gaps in knowledge regarding the disease in patients of different demographics. To think of health disparities in a simpler context, think of someone who was writing a book on the best dog treats but only ever looked at Golden Retrievers, if you had a pug or a husky that data would not mean much to you right? Then why would we want a similar undertaking occurring in a practice as important as cancer research? 

You may be wondering why health disparities are a concern for physicians and researchers alike. This is because the information surveyed and gathered from tissue samples are used to test treatments and create treatment plans based on the cancer cell type. When the informational database is only available for one unique population to design and test treatments, women from other populations may not experience the optimal impact.
To narrow the gap in information and treatment, there is an ongoing effort to collect and study breast tissue samples from a variety of genetically different populations and races. The Rays of Hope Center for Breast Research has been working on bridging the knowledge gap by consenting participants and collecting breast tissue from a diverse population of women undergoing surgery for breast tissue removal in Springfield. It is essential to continue collecting these tissues from diverse populations since having a wider genetic range in research samples will allow for an increased understanding differential susceptibility and assist in personalized treatments.
This summer, scientists at the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, Sallie Schneider Ph.D., and Kelly Gregory Ph.D., have been hosting a biomedical research training internship for undergraduates and high school students. Students learn research techniques and then are given a breast cancer-related research question to address on their own. Along with these research techniques, students have been working on science communication projects. This year the high school students are developing a podcast series on breast cancer health disparities, the contributing factors, and concerns. The hope is that an improved flow of Information at the scientific level, as well as the community level, will lead to more participation in research studies across populations and reduce some of the disparities contributing to breast cancer in the future.
Note: The Baystate Springfield Educational Partnership (BSEP) advances education for our Springfield youth and prepares them for careers that are committed to serving the health and wellbeing of the community. Learn more about the program at