Titles and Affiliations

Emeritus Professor of Pharmacology and Medicine
Geisel School of Medicine
Dartmouth College
Hanover, New Hampshire

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 use in BRCA mutation carriers has not been established. Drs. Sporn and Liby’s work focuses on developing new drugs and drug-delivery systems for high-risk patients. 

Progress Thus Far

Drs. Sporn, Liby, 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.


Michael B. Sporn received his MD degree at the University of Rochester, and then started a 35-year career at the National Institutes of Health, where he became the Chief of the Laboratory of Chemoprevention in the National Cancer Institute in 1978. In the 1980s, his laboratory in Bethesda played a key role in the original discovery of the multifunctional cytokine known transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta). In 1995, he moved to Dartmouth, where he has held an endowed chair as Professor of Pharmacology and Medicine.

He has been a strong advocate for prevention of cancer for many years, and much of his own research has dealt with the development of new drugs to be used as chemopreventive agents. These drugs have included synthetic retinoids and rexinoids (analogs of vitamin A), synthetic deltanoids (analogs of vitamin D), as well as selective estrogen response modulators (SERMs). Most recently, he has been focusing on the use of new synthetic triterpenoids as agents for preventing breast and lung cancer and for suppressing inflammation and oxidative stress.

BCRF Investigator Since