Dr. Janet 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 she 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 genetics changes in the malignant cells of that tumor. Her early insights have culminated in the work of others leading to specific treatments for two of the translocations she discovered namely, all trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) for the 15;17 translocation inacute promyelocytic leukemia and STI571 (GLEEVAC) 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 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.
Dr. Rowley continues to open up new areas of research and make landmark contributions to cancer biology, diagnosis, and treatment today. Her rapid application of the recently developed technique of spectral karyotyping (1996), has resolved new chromosomal rearrangements associated with leukemias opening up yet another series of discoveries. Her most recent foray is into the analysis of genome-wide gene expression in hematopoietic cells. Her colleagues have modified existing techniques and have combined them in unique ways to be able to detect the multitude of genes expressed at fewer than 3 to 5 copies per cell. At present her group has completed gene expression analysis of normal myeloid cells as well as B and T cells at various stages of differentiation. These data will provide the benchmark against which to compare identical analyses of gene expression in a series of myeloid and lymphoid leukemias with different translocations. This research will help to identify the additional genetic changes that clearly collaborate with the fusion genes to produce a fully leukemic cell.
Dr. Rowley 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), and American Academy of Achievement (1999). She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1984), Institute of Medicine (1985), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), and American Philosophical Society (1993.) She has received seven honorary degrees including one from Oxford in June 2000. Along with her friend, Felix Mitelman, she cofounded and is coeditor of Genes, Chromosomes and Cancer, the premier cancer cytogenetic journal worldwide.
Mendel Medal Presentation Program, March 13, 2004. Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania.