Professor of Pharmacology and Medicine
Geisel School of Medicine
Hanover, New Hampshire
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. Sporn and Liby 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. In their current studies, Drs. Sporn and Liby will test a combination chemoprevention strategy, as a way to increase effectiveness of these drugs, while lowering the toxicity by using lower doses. Their ultimate goal is to develop new preventive drugs that can be safely given to women who are at exceptionally high risk for 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.