Gertrude Case Buehring PhD

Professor of the Graduate School
Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology

Gertrude C. Buehring is a Professor of Virology whose goal has been to uncover a viral cause of breast cancer. She has received several honorary awards for her research including the Cornelius Hopper and Otto Sartorius awards for excellence in breast cancer research, a Fulbright Scholar Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for In Vitro Biology.

Dr. Buehring is a Professor of the Graduate Division associated with the Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology in the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley. Her goal has been to uncover a viral cause of breast cancer, the most common cancer diagnosed in women worldwide, and in males 1% of the female rate.

Following the discovery in the 1970s that mouse mammary tumor virus caused breast cancer in mice and was transmitted in milk from mother to nursing pup, there was intensive research and funding to find a similar virus in humans. However, this dissipated around 1990, when no convincing viral cause had been uncovered. This was when Dr. Buehring reasoned that perhaps cattle, not humans, were the source of a potential breast cancer virus, since humans drink more cows milk than they do human milk. She turned her research attention to bovine leukemia virus (BLV), which causes widespread infection of beef and dairy cattle globally, and is commonly transmitted in milk from infected cows to nursing calves. Her primary method of identifying BLV in human breast cancer tissue sections, has been in situ PCR (polymerase chain reaction). Over the past 30 years, together with her students and/or collaborators, the requirements necessary for proving causation of an infectious disease (Bradford-Hill criteria), have been met for BLV as a cause of human breast cancer, including validation by laboratories in several other countries using their own populations of breast cancer patients. Her lab was also the first to determine a mechanism of carcinogenic action for BLV and the closely related HTLV (human T cell leukemia virus). They also determined that many humans have BLV-positive cells in their blood which could potentially be transmitted to other humans. After routes of transmission of BLV to humans are established, preventive measures to eliminate BLV-initiated breast cancers can be developed.

Her current research actively focuses on: 1) determining how BLV is transmitted to and among humans; 2) role of BLV in breast cancer of males; 3) comparing BLV DNA sequences and histologic patterns in metastatic versus primary breast cancer tissue specimens to help determine what triggers breast cancer metastasis. The ultimate goal of all her research is to prevent breast cancer from ever getting started, by eliminating or reducing the causes.
Dr. Buehring’s research has been funded by the NCI (National Cancer Institute), National Action Plan for Breast Cancer, US Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Funds, Avon Foundation, California Breast Cancer Research Program, Susan Love Breast Cancer Foundation, and small grants from various organizations. Her publications on BLV and breast cancer are widely cited. One ranked in top 10% of citations of all publications in PLoS One in 2015. She has received several awards for her research: UCB Cornelius L. Hopper Scientific Achievement award, 1999; a Lifetime Achievement Award (Society for In Vitro Biology); a Fulbright Fellowship for collaborative breast cancer research in Costa Rica, and a finalist in the California Breast Cancer Research Program competition for research that would lead to breast cancer prevention. Editorial boards of many top journals request her review of about 2-4 manuscripts per month on research related to breast cancer and/or oncogencic viruses. In 2000, she was appointed to the Etiology Working Group of the National Action Plan on Breast Cancer.
Her service to UCB campus has been extensive, including the Committee on Research (COR), and the Chancellor’s Committee on Health and Medical Science (1980-87) where she was instrumental in developing and monitoring the basic science curriculum of the UCB-UCSF Joint Medical Program. She has served on many School of Public Health committees and was Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for 3 years and Chair of the Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology Division for 5 years. She received two teaching awards from SPH: Teaching excellence, (2016) for teaching PH162A, which she taught for 40 years, and a mentorship award based on a nomination by graduate student Gemma Niermann.

  • PhD – Genetics, UC Berkeley
  • CLS – Doctors Hospital (clinical laboratory scientist)
  • BA – Biology, Stanford University
  • Viral etiology of human breast cancer
  • Bovine leukemia virus and its possible role in causing human breast cancer
  • Primary prevention of breast cancer by eliminating bovine leukemia virus from California cattle herds, which are heavily infected.
  • PH 298
  • PH299
  • URAP mentoring