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Dartmouth Honorary Degrees 2004:Janet D. Rowley

Posted 05/05/04

Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago
(Honorary Degree: Doctor of Science)
Janet D. Rowley
Janet D. Rowley

Biographical Background: Janet D. Rowley, M.D., is the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor in the Departments of Medicine, in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology and in Human Genetics. She received her medical degree from the University of Chicago in 1948. She joined the research faculty at the University of Chicago in 1962 and became a Professor in 1977.

Rowley has contributed significantly to advances in understanding of genetic changes in cancer. She focused on chromosome abnormalities in human leukemia and lymphoma, and in 1972, using new techniques of chromosome identification, she discovered the first consistent chromosome translocation in any human cancer.

During her career, Rowley has identified more than a dozen different recurring translocations. These discoveries have revolutionized the view of hematologists/oncologists and cancer biologists regarding the critical importance of recurring chromosome abnormalities in cancer cells. Moreover, she showed that many different tumors were each associated with specific cytogenetic abnormalities that reflect critical genetic changes in the malignant cells of that tumor. Her early insights have culminated in specific treatments for two of the translocations; she discovered, namely, all trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) for the 15:17 translocation in acute promyelocytic leukemia, and STI571 (Gleevec/Imatinib) for the 9;22 translocation in chronic myelogenous leukemia. In addition, collaborating with hematologists, she showed that recurring chromosome abnormalities in acute leukemia were the most important prognostic indicators of a patient's likelihood of response to treatment and survival. She and her colleagues have cloned a number of different translocations breakpoints, providing insights into the identity of new genes involved in leukemia.

Her laboratory is currently analyzing the gene expression pattern of recurring translocations to identify unique markers of those leukemias for diagnosis and potentially as therapeutic targets. Along with her friend Felix Mitelman, she cofounded and is coeditor of Genes, Chromosomes and Cancer, the premier cancer cytogenetic journal worldwide.

She has received numerous awards including Dameshek Prize (1982), Kuwait Cancer Prize (1984), Karnofsky Prize (1987), Prix Antoine Lacassagne (1987), King Faisal Prize (1988), Clowes Award (1989), Mott Prize (1989), Allen Award (1991), Gairdner Award (1996), Medal of Honor (ACS, 1996), Lasker Award (1998), Medal of Science (1998), American Academy of Achievement (1999), The Charlotte Friend Award (2003), the Henry Strallon Award (2003), and the Rosalind Franklin Award (2004). She is a member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), and the American Philosophical Society (1993). She has received seven honorary degrees.

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