Titles and Affiliations

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

Research area

Identifying alternatives to prophylactic surgery for breast cancer prevention.


Individuals with a high risk for breast cancer are those who either have a known genetic mutation, or a family history, and that information is vital for starting a screening and prevention regimen with their physicians. 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 Drs. Liby and Sporn’s work focuses on developing new drugs and drug-delivery systems for high-risk patients. 

Progress Thus Far

Drs. Liby, Sporn and their teams optimized an innovative strategy in the laboratory to identify safe, well-tolerated new drugs to prevent breast cancer. They found two novel compounds that delay the development of breast cancer in experimental models and are currently studying how they work—if they function by altering the activity of immune cells known to accelerate the growth of breast cancer. 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—that is designed for localized drug delivery. They tested the PARP inhibitor in a specialized delivery system, which is designed to be implanted in the breast where it releases the drug. This method performed well, and the team will continue to advance these devices for clinical testing.

What’s next

The team will continue improving on the drug delivery, development, and testing of the promising drugs they identified. This will include experiments to reveal how these drugs impact immune cells, which can promote the development and growth of breast cancer.


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