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Karen Liby, PhD

Associate Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan

Current Research

  • Seeking safe and effective drug combinations for breast cancer prevention.
  • Laboratory studies are ongoing to test investigational drugs as potential candidates for effective drug combinations to prevent BRCA-driven breast cancer.
  • These efforts could lead to non-surgical prevention alternatives for women with a high risk of breast cancer.

Chemoprevention–the use of drugs to prevent cancer–has been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of certain breast cancers in women with a high risk of breast cancer or breast cancer recurrence. For individuals with inherited mutations in one of the breast cancer genes, BRCA1 or BRCA2, chemoprevention is currently not an available option. Drs. Liby and Sporn are conducting studies to identify novel drug combinations that can reduce the risk of breast cancer for this high-risk population. 

Full Research Summary

Women with an inherited mutation in the breast cancer genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 are at exceptionally high risk for developing breast cancer. Currently, the only proven preventive strategy for these women is surgical removal of the breasts (bilateral prophylactic mastectomy). Non-invasive, non-surgical alternatives are urgently needed.

One such approach is chemoprevention, which is the use of drugs to prevent cancer formation. Drs. Liby and Sporn are testing multiple novel therapeutic strategies to suppress tumor-promoting immune cells and other growth processes to block tumor growth. These include new formulations of existing drugs such as PARP inhibitors and rexinoids, as well as a new investigational drug called I-BET 762 for preventing breast cancer. 

The research team recently showed that I-BET 762 suppressed cancer promoting immune cells and blocked one of the earliest steps in breast cancer. This year, they will continue to test these drugs with the long-term goal of developing a safe and effective chemopreventive strategy that would reduce the need for prophylactic mastectomy.


Karen Liby earned her PhD from the University of Cincinnati and then worked with Michael B. Sporn, a pioneer in the field of chemoprevention, at Dartmouth Medical School for 12 years. She recently started an Associate Professor position focused on drug discovery in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Michigan State University. She was awarded the Wilson S. Stone Memorial Award by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2007.

Her research priorities are to develop and test new drugs and drug combinations for the prevention and treatment of cancer and to explore novel drug delivery systems. She has tested several novel drugs and found that they can both prevent and treat experimental breast cancer and is working to move these drugs into the clinic. She is also studying the molecular mechanism of action of these drugs and identifying and validating biomarkers that will be needed to evaluate these drugs clinically.

Large Researcher Headshot - Liby Karen

BCRF Investigator Since


Area(s) of Focus