Brian Capell, M.D., Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Genetics

Project Title

Dietary Fatty Acid Modulation for the Prevention of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Named Award

Awesome Games Done Quick


Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Genetics


The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.

My “Why”

Cancer is primarily a disease of aging. Virtually all individuals, if they live long enough, will be impacted by cancer. Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) are the most common of all cancers, and collectively, they create a profound public health and economic burden for society. Any advances we can make that can enhance cancer prevention and early detection will have a major societal impact.

My Mission

We know that prevention, early detection and treatment of cancers such as SCCs can have major implications for clinical outcomes. Despite this, the incidence of these cancers continues to rise worldwide. By focusing on cancer prevention and early detection, we can work to eliminate the significant morbidity and mortality associated with these cancers when they are in their most treatable state.

Research Overview

The ability of our cells to undergo programmed cellular death is fundamental to cancer prevention. Our lab has provided the first evidence that a recently discovered tumor suppressive form of programmed cell death known as “ferroptosis” may be critical for tumor suppression in SCCs.

Given the ability to increase ferroptosis through a diet rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (as well as through targeted drugs), this project aims to test whether dietary modifications can substantially contribute to the prevention and treatment of these common and potentially deadly cancers.

Our research may lead to new knowledge regarding how lifestyle modification, such as dietary fatty acid modulation, can prevent common cancers like SCCs. If successful, these results may not only offer the possibility and opportunity to prevent future cancers, but also highlight potential treatments to test for patients currently afflicted by these cancers (e.g., ferroptosis-promoting drugs).

Why Funding Matters

[Funding from the Prevent Cancer Foundation] will supply critical resources to fill a major research gap and test a novel approach and hypothesis toward the prevention of SCCs. These preclinical studies will provide critical preliminary data for future grant proposals, and, most importantly, may offer proof of principle for prevention approaches that can be more formally tested in human patients in the near future.

My Hope

My hope is that our studies will be able to clearly demonstrate the ability to prevent or reduce SCC initiation and progression by modulating the types of fatty acids in the diet to increase ferroptosis.

This exciting result would offer proof of principle for a highly accessible and safe method of cancer prevention that could then be formally tested in humans. Ultimately, I hope we can make a significant impact upon the incidence and outcomes of these common cancers.