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Powel H. Brown, MD, PhD

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, Texas

Titles and Affiliations

John Charles Cain Distinguished Chair
Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention

Research area

Developing effective, targeted therapies for the prevention of BRCA1 mutant breast cancer


Women carrying a BRCA1 gene mutation are at greater risk for developing breast cancer, often at a younger age with more aggressive tumors that result in a poor prognosis and decreased life expectancy. Currently, the only effective prevention option for these women is a highly invasive and irreversible surgical procedure to completely remove the breast tissue. Dr. Brown and his team seek to identify novel lipid molecules important for the activation of anti-tumor immune cells that play a role in the suppression of breast tumor formation. They will also demonstrate the preventive efficacy of targeted therapies combined with immune therapies, with the hopes that the findings will ultimately lead to effective prevention of BRCA1 mutant breast cancer.

What’s next

The long-term goal of the research is to develop safe and effective therapies that prevent the development of breast cancer in women with inherited BRCA1 mutations. Inhibitors of poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP), an FDA approved targeted therapy for BRCA1-deficient tumors, have been found to modestly delay the formation of tumors in relevant laboratory models. However, these treatments are associated with toxicities that limit their use for prevention. Activators of the retinoid X receptor (RXR) have been shown to inhibit the growth of breast cancer, alter the immune system, and are less toxic than current breast cancer therapies. It is known that lipid molecules can stimulate an immune response, and the team hypothesizes that the preventative effect of the RXR activator is partially due to the release of lipid molecules that can activate the local immune system and delay the formation of tumors. The team will proceed with identifying the lipid molecules important for the activation of anti-tumor immune cells and define the specific immune players involved in the prevention of mutant breast cancer upon treatment with the RXR activator or a PARP inhibitor. They will also determine whether the combination of immune and RXR activator therapies will effectively prevent the development of tumors in their laboratory models.


Powel Brown, MD, PhD is a molecular biologist and breast medical oncologist at the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he is Chair of the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention. His research interests lie in developing therapies for the prevention of breast cancer and focuses on developing molecularly targeted therapies for the treatment and prevention of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). He has been the Principal Investigator of MD Anderson’s National Institute of Health (NIH)/National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded PREVENT program which supports preclinical research testing and prevention interventions. He has also directed an NCI-funded Cancer Prevention Consortium to conduct clinical cancer prevention trials. Dr. Brown’s leadership roles include serving as Leader of the Cancer Prevention Program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center and President of the International Society of Cancer Prevention, and he is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

If not for BCRF we would be unable to conduct our research to identify novel immune strategies for the prevention of breast cancer in high-risk women.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The AutoNation DRV PNK Award

Areas of Focus

Treatment Tumor Biology