Michael B. Sporn, M.D.

Cancer as a Chronic Disease

Research Area: Cancer Prevention

Portrait of Michael B. Sporn, M.D.
Michael B. Sporn, M.D.
Cancer as a Chronic Disease

Five years after the National Cancer Act was signed, Michael B. Sporn, M.D., created the term “chemoprevention” to name the idea that drugs could be developed to prevent cancer, because cancer could be considered a chronic disease. Using drugs, vitamins, or other agents to prevent or delay cancer development was unusual in a time when cancer research was focusing on new drugs for treatment.

Dr. Sporn joined the National Cancer Institute in 1964 and was chief of the Laboratory of Chemoprevention from 1978 to 1995. While in this position, the laboratory worked on vitamin A and its analogues, which he called “retinoids.” His team showed that these agents could prevent cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, and other organs in rodents. He also predicted that there would be receptors for these compounds years before they were discovered. With Anita Roberts, Ph.D., he characterized transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta), a protein that both can promote and inhibit cell growth.

In 1995, he moved to Dartmouth Medical School, where he has worked on new synthetic triterpinoids. These agents have anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, pro-apototic and cytoprotective activities.

An ardent supporter of prevention, Dr. Sporn has used the example of treatments for HIV infection that stop people from developing AIDS as the way we should be approaching cancer prevention. Once increased risk for cancer is identified, he imagines that several agents could be taken to stop cancer from developing.

To learn more about Dr. Sporn, read his biography at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.