Purdue professors to advance breast cancer research partnership through trip to Ghana

January 10, 2012

Sophie Lelièvre

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue professors Sophie A. Lelièvre and Ellen Gruenbaum will travel to Africa this month to meet with officials of Peace and Love Hospital in Kumasi, Ghana, and outline ways to advance a partnership on breast cancer research and awareness.

Lelièvre, associate professor of basic medical sciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine and associate director of Discovery Groups for the Purdue Center for Cancer Research, also will deliver a keynote lecture on international efforts to prevent breast cancer development to a panel of African health and public policy experts on Monday (Jan. 16) in Kumasi.

"The incidence of breast cancer has risen rapidly in many African countries, and the World Health Organization is asking scientists from around the world to help shift efforts from detection toward primary prevention," said Lelièvre (pronounced Le-LEE-YEA-vre). "That's because many developing countries will not be able to withstand the costs associated with the necessary heavy treatments, especially since women usually consult at advanced stages of the disease."

Lelièvre and Gruenbaum, with support from the Purdue Global Policy Research Institute, are researching how legal and cultural aspects impact policy decisions in terms of breast health in countries such as Ghana, Lebanon, France, Japan and Uruguay.

Gruenbaum, a medical anthropologist and head of the Department of Anthropology, also will work on establishing a collaboration to study cultural and religious practices affecting breast health and dietary patterns.

"Many African women are dying from breast cancer mainly because of a lack of understanding about the disease's early symptoms and beliefs about the effects of breast cancer," Gruenbaum said. "While the country's fatality rate from breast cancer is 10th highest in Africa, Ghanaian health-care officials and government leaders are working aggressively to raise awareness and educate women about how lives can be saved from early screening and treatment."

During their visit to Ghana, Lelièvre and Gruenbaum will meet with African breast cancer awareness leader Dr. Beatrice Wiafe-Addai, chief executive officer of Peace and Love Hospital. Wiafe-Addai also serves as president of Breast Care International, a non-governmental organization in Ghana, and has received several awards for her breast cancer awareness efforts.

In addition, Wiafe-Addai chairs the Susan G. Komen Ghana Race for the Cure and the Ghana Breast Cancer Alliance and is vice president of the African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer Council for West Africa, known as AORTIC.

An estimated 450,000 women die from breast cancer every year in Ghana, and about 5 million of its 22 million people are at high risk for the disease, said Lelièvre, who also is a member of the Oncological Sciences Center in Purdue's Discovery Park.

Lelièvre and Connie Weaver, distinguished professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue, are leading a multinational initiative called the International Breast Cancer and Nutrition Project (IBCN) to learn more about the role that diet and other environmental factors can play to promote or prevent this disease.

IBCN, involving the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, is focusing initial efforts on the United States and Ghana as well as France, Japan, Uruguay and Lebanon.

Through the project launched in 2010, each country has a dedicated research team focused on a number of milestones and allows scientists to study worldwide diversity in breast cancer rates, dietary patterns and cultural contexts.

The project is bringing together experts in nutrition, basic medical sciences, statistics, cancer epidemiology, communication, public policy, economics, health law, anthropology and medicine to study a variety of factors such as how cellular mechanisms in breast cancer development link to diet, as well as the role public policy plays in a population's available food source and disease prevention.

Lelièvre said another important objective is to identify the link between different types of breast cancer, nutrition and the epigenome, the latter of which determines how the genome is organized within cells to control the on-and-off switch of genes.

The IBCN's annual conference returns to the Purdue campus this fall, following the 2011 event in France. Lebanon is scheduled to host the conference in 2013. Purdue hosted the inaugural conference in October 2010.

Purdue's Global Policy Research Institute focuses on the university's strengths in science, information technology, data management and systems engineering in collaboration with economics and the social sciences to inform policymakers about critical issues such as food security and health.

The institute has awarded $300,000 in grants to help Purdue professors establish seed projects to attract external funding for larger projects. Some of the supported topics include food security, disaster recovery, cancer prevention and sustainability. 
Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, pfiorini@purdue.edu

Sources: Sophie A. Lelièvre, 765-496-7793, lelievre@purdue.edu

                  Ellen Gruenbaum, 765-496-7422, gruenbaum@purdue.edu

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