A pioneer in connecting the development of cancer with genetic abnormalities, Janet D. Rowley, MD, the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago, died from complications of ovarian cancer on December, 17, 2013, at her home. She was 88.
Before Rowley, few scientists suspected that chromosomal aberrations caused cancer. Beginning in the 1970s, however, she made a series of fundamental discoveries demonstrating that specific chromosomal changes caused certain types of leukemia.
Rowley’s discoveries changed the way cancer was understood, opened the door to development of drugs directed at the cancer-specific genetic abnormalities and created a model that still drives cancer research.
“Janet Rowley’s work established that cancer is a genetic disease,” said Mary-Claire King, professor of genetics and medicine (medical genetics) at the University of Washington and president of the American Society of Human Genetics. “She demonstrated that mutations in critical genes lead to specific forms of leukemia and lymphoma, and that one can determine the form of cancer present in a patient directly from the genetic changes in the cancer. We are still working from her paradigm.”