Dartmouth researcher Michael B. Sporn, M.D. honored for pioneering work in cancer prevention

October 02, 2002

Hanover, NH - Michael B. Sporn, M.D., the pioneering Dartmouth cancer researcher who championed the idea of stopping cancer before it starts, has been selected by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the Cancer Research Foundation of America (CRFA) to receive the inaugural award for Excellence in Cancer Prevention Research.

The international award recognizes the individual whose contributions in cancer prevention research have had a major impact and stimulated new directions in the field. Sporn, the Oscar M. Cohn '34 Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology and of Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, conducts research through Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

"Dr. Sporn is an international leader in the field of cancer prevention. His innovative work has paved the way for novel approaches to prevent or treat cancer," said Ethan Dmitrovsky, M.D., acting dean of Dartmouth Medical School and chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

Sporn is considered a visionary cancer researcher whose innovative thinking and landmark investigations have fundamentally changed our ideas about the dynamics of cancer, and how it begins and grows in a process known as carcinogenesis. One of his most significant contributions is the concept of chemoprevention, a term that he coined in two landmark papers published in the early 1970s. The idea of chemoprevention - using drugs, vitamins, or other agents to prevent or delay the development of cancer - challenged existing dogmas of cancer medicine at the time by suggesting an approach other than the use of cytotoxic drugs to treat end-stage disease.

Sporn continues to advocate the importance of cancer prevention. "There is still tremendous resistance to the idea of telling people they have early changes in their cells that could some day lead to invasive cancer," he says. "The emphasis should be on suppressing carcinogenesis - the development of cancer - before it becomes evident as invasive or metastatic cancer. We need a whole educational mission to get people to think about cancer before they go to the doctor, for example, with a lump in their breast."

Sporn's fundamental research studies and collaborations have led to strategies with vast potential for reducing cancer incidence and death. Sporn was one of the first to exploit the chemopreventive potential of Vitamin A and its analogs, the retinoids (a term that he also coined). His laboratory also was the first to characterize transforming growth factor-beta (TGFbeta), demonstrate its role in controlling cell growth, and show loss of its function in certain tumor cells.

Sporn has recently begun to study certain triterpenoids - structures occurring in hundreds of plants all over the world, which have been found to have interesting biological, pharmacological, and medicinal activities. The development of a potent new plant derivative called CDDO is evidence of the success of this new approach, and indicative of the momentum Sporn maintains in chemopreventive research.

According to Mark Israel, M.D., Director of Norris Cotton Cancer Center, that momentum also fuels the work of cancer prevention researchers at Dartmouth and beyond. "Many chemopreventive interventions that are demonstrating feasibility and potential public heath importance in clinical trials today are based to some extent on discoveries from Dr. Sporn's laboratory. The AACR-ACRF Excellence in Cancer Prevention Research award not only recognizes Dr. Sporn's accomplishments, it brings greater public attention to the extraordinatry efforts and progress being made through laboratory-based cancer prevention efforts."

Dr. Sporn will present a major lecture titled 'Chemoprevention: An Essential Approach for Control of Cancer--Some New Thoughts on This Problem' during the first AACR Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research Meeting, which will be held October 14-18, in Boston.

The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

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