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How fundraisers like Run For The Cure support research

The University of Toronto is celebrating its fourth year as host of the CIBC Run for the Cure (U of T News file photo)

At the CIBC Run for the Cure Oct. 6, people will gather at the University of Toronto and across Canada, sporting sensible footwear, pink hats, wigs and boas to support the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

Some of the women who take part may carry the genetic mutations BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 — mutations which increase their susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer.

Now, backed by funds from Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF), Ontario region, U of T researcher and neuroscientist Gillian Einstein is embarking on research that might change their lives.

“Breast cancer research is now such an established field that we’re able to look not just at the mechanisms of the disease, but at the effects of treatment,” Einstein says.

Given the increased cancer risk, women who carry the BRCA1 or 2 mutations are often counseled to have their ovaries removed as a preventive measure. Einstein has received funding from CBCF to study what happens to women’s cognition, including memory and attention, after their ovaries are removed. The study will eventually follow 275 women over 10 years.

“There are very few studies looking at the effect of ovarian removal on cognition,” says Einstein. “There are neuropsychological studies six months post-surgery, and epidemiological studies looking at 35 years later. That’s a huge gap of time over which we know nothing about what could be happening to the brain.”

Ovaries are the primary source of estradiol, one of the three forms of estrogen made by women. Although estradiol levels decrease in menopause because of ovarian aging, removing a woman’s ovaries eliminates almost all of the estradiol from her body.

Women that have their ovaries removed as a preventative measure will be potentially living without estradiol for many years, Einstein says.

“We associate ovaries with reproduction, but they also make this estrogen that affects every single body system, from the bones to the heart to the brain,” says Einstein. “Removing the ovaries means more than losing your fertility – there are repercussions to the whole body.”

Women need to know this information in order to make a properly informed choice about a life-altering decision, as well as to protect themselves after the decision is made, says Einstein. She believes so strongly in the importance of this research that she funded much of the research necessary to gain preliminary data for her grant application out of her own pocket. Not only will the project uncover fundamental information about the importance of this estrogen for younger women, but it will affect the quality of life of those who carry the BRCA mutation, she says.

“I’m very grateful to CBCF-Ontario for this funding because it’s opened up huge arenas of important research for women’s health.”

The CIBC Run for the Cure will be taking place on the University of Toronto Front Campus. Participants may choose to walk or run a one-kilometre or five-kilometre route. Last year, more than 18,000 people raised more than $4.2 million for the Toronto run. Across Canada, more than 170,000 took part in the run in support of breast cancer research, education and awareness.

Women who carry the BRCA1 or 2 mutations and are interested in joining Einstein’s research study can email her at gillian.einstein@utoronto.ca for more information.