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Jennifer Ligibel, MD

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Boston, Massachusetts

Titles and Affiliations

Director, Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living
Associate Professor, Medical Oncology

Research area

Investigating the link between exercise, irisin, and breast cancer development.


Higher levels of physical activity have been linked to lower risk of developing breast cancer, but the processes by which exercise could impact breast cancer are not well understood. Exercise has been shown to activate the immune system in breast cancers and in non-cancerous breast tissue. Dr. Ligibel has demonstrated that irisin, a substance released by muscle during exercise, slows breast cancer development potentially through immune system activation. Dr. Ligibel’s research aims to integrate evidence connecting exercise, irisin, and breast cancer development to better understand the pathways through which exercise could lower disease risk.

What’s next

First, Dr. Ligibel will explore the impact of irisin and the immune system on breast cancer development and test whether exposure to irisin leads to activation of the immune system in a human breast cancer model. The second part of the project will involve a clinical trial in women at increased risk of breast cancer based on the presence of increased breast density. Participants will undergo biopsies of benign breast tissue and assessment of circulating irisin before and after taking part in a 12-week exercise program or control group, allowing for evaluation of the impact of exercise on circulating irisin, as well as on immune and proliferative markers in non-cancerous breast tissue. Dr. Ligibel will also explore the relationship between changes in immune and proliferative markers in breast tissue and changes in irisin. These projects will help to determine the mechanisms through which exercise could reduce breast cancer risk, as well as to identify new targets for the development of drugs that could prevent breast cancer.


Jennifer Ligibel, MD is the director of the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living and is an associate professor of medical oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She completed her medical degree at Washington University in St. Louis, followed by a residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and fellowship in medical oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Partners Cancer Care in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Ligibel’s currently serves as the Chair of the American Society of Clinical Oncology Cancer Care Delivery Council and the Prevention Committee Vice Chair of the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology. Her research is focused on the impact of energy balance factors, such as physical activity and body weight, upon cancer risk and outcomes. Her long-term goals are to evaluate the impact of energy balance interventions, including weight loss and increased physical activity, on cancer recurrence and survival, and to determine the best methods of implementing these interventions in oncology practice.

BCRF Investigator Since