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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, especially in high-risk women.

  • 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 faced with a dangerously high risk of breast cancer.

Women with a mutated breast cancer gene (BRCA) 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 new investigational drugs for preventing breast cancer. They continue to evaluate other inhibitors that target the harmful effects of immune cells in breast cancer. 

Their long-term goal is to develop a safe and effective combination of chemopreventive drugs that would eliminate the need for prophylactic mastectomy. Such a chemopreventive regimen would be a great benefit to women with a BRCA mutation, who must presently suffer either the anxiety of "watchful waiting" or radical surgery.


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.

BCRF Investigator Since


Area(s) of Focus