Titles and Affiliations

Associate Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology

Research area

Identifying alternatives to prophylactic surgery for breast cancer prevention.


Prophylactic mastectomy is an effective risk-reduction strategy for high-risk individuals, but it also places a significant burden on patients. Alternative preventive strategies are greatly needed to help patients avoid the pain and financial costs of surgery and one approach is chemoprevention—the use of drugs to prevent cancer initiation or growth. To date, tamoxifen and raloxifene are approved for breast cancer prevention, but their utility in BRCA mutation carriers has not been established. Dr. Liby’s work focuses on developing new drugs and drug-delivery systems for high-risk patients.  

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Liby and her team optimized an innovative strategy in the laboratory to identify safe, well-tolerated new drugs to prevent breast cancer. They found two new compounds that delay the development of breast cancer in experimental models and the team is currently studying how they work. Both of their candidate drugs appear to work in coordination with the immune system. In addition, they tested a new formulation of a PARP inhibitor—a class of drugs currently used to treat breast cancer driven by BRCA mutations. This formulation, in which the drug is encapsulated in nanoparticles, increased the ability of this drug to treat breast tumors, with reduced toxicity.  

What’s next

The team will continue testing the promising drugs they identified. This will include further experiments to reveal the how these drugs work with immune cells to impact tumors, which is essential for understanding which tumor type should be targeted with each therapy.  


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