Associate Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
Women with a mutated breast cancer gene (BRCA) are at exceptionally high risk for developing breast cancer. Currently the only proven preventive strategy for these women is surgical removal of the breasts (bilateral prophylactic mastectomy). There is an urgent need to develop non-invasive, non-surgical alternatives. One such approach is chemoprevention, which is the use of drugs to prevent cancer formation. Drs. Liby and Sporn were the first to show that two drugs (olaparib and veliparib) are effective in delaying tumor formation in experimental models of BRCA1 breast cancer. These drugs belong to the class known as PARP inhibitors, which are currently in clinical trials for treatment of breast and ovarian cancer, but have not been previously investigated for prevention of breast cancer. Drs. Liby and Sporn recently demonstrated that another type of drug called CDDO-Me could prevent BRCA breast cancers in experimental models. CDDO-Me is being tested in cancer patients for its ability to target immune cells and the researchers found that it can reprogram human immune cells so they can suppress the growth of breast cancer. In their ongoing studies they are testing new PARP inhibitors and new formulations for preventing breast cancer and evaluating other inhibitors that target the harmful effects of immune cells in breast cancer. Their long-term goal is to develop a safe and effective combination of chemopreventive drugs that would eliminate the need for prophylactic mastectomy. Such a chemopreventive regimen would be a great benefit to women with a BRCA mutation, who must presently suffer either the anxiety of “watchful waiting” or the disfigurement of radical surgery.
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 drugs 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 needed to evaluate these drugs clinically.