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Thomas W. Kensler, PhD

Professor, Pharmacology & Chemical Biology
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Current Research

  • Seeking alternative approaches to chemoprevention of breast cancers.

  • Studies are ongoing to test the effects of a plant chemical on prevnting DNA damage and blocking estrogen-induced breast cancer growth in laboratory models.

  • If successful, these studies could lead to an affordable option for breast cancer risk reduction for women in low resource settings.

The incidence of breast cancer incidence is rising globally, and affordable, effective approaches towards prevention are urgently needed.

Elevated levels of estrogens are an important determinant of breast cancer risk. One way estrogen promotes tumor growth is through production of chemical metabolites called quinones that cause oxidative DNA damage. Elevated levels of these DNA-damage biomarkers are associated with increased risk of breast cancer.

Dr. Kensler's earlier work identified a chemical found in broccoli, called sulforaphane, that alters estrogen metabolism and reduces levels of urinary quinones. They are now testing whether excreted quinone levels are a reliable biomarker for measuring this effect.

Their goal is to demonstrate that broccoli sprout beverages or broccoli-based dietary supplements rich in sulforaphane can reduce the levels of estrogen metabolites and the associated DNA damage and offer a potentially effective and frugal approach for the prevention of breast cancer. 


Thomas Kensler is Professor of Pharmacology & Chemical Biology at the University of Pittsburgh. He obtained his doctorate at MIT and trained as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin and at the National Cancer Institute. After 30 years on the faculty of the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, he moved his primary appointment to the University of Pittsburgh in 2010. He maintains a small research group at Johns Hopkins.  The goal of his laboratory is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms involved in the induction of cancer by chemicals to serve as a basis for the prevention, interruption or reversal of these processes in humans. A major mechanism of protection against environmental carcinogenesis is the induction of enzymes involved in their detoxication and elimination. To translate laboratory findings to humans, his group has conducted a series of "proof-of-principle" randomized clinical trials in populations at high risk for exposures to air- and food-borne toxins and carcinogens with broccoli sprout beverages rich in the phytochemical sulforaphane. They are now developing and validating biomarkers to assess the efficacy of broccoli-based interventions to block the DNA damaging actions of reactive estrogen metabolites in the context of breast cancer prevention

Dr. Kensler’s numerous awards include the AACR-American Cancer Society Award for Excellence in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Society of Toxicology Translational Impact Award and the National Friendship Award, Beijing,  China’s highest award for foreign civilians. He has published over 350 research articles. He is a former chair of the NIH Chemo-Dietary Study Section and is on the editorial board of several journals.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Wythes Family Foundation Award