In 1972, cancer researcher Janet Rowley, MD, identified a trade in genetic material between two chromosomes in leukemia cells. This “translocation” between genes led to the uncontrolled cell growth of cancer. The discovery led to the identification of other chromosome abnormalities in cancers and laid the groundwork for today’s targeted therapies for certain leukemias and other cancers.
In 1991, oncologist Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD, opened a lab to investigate a possible genetic predisposition for breast cancer. Seeing a need to more quickly translate advances from genetics research into cancer prevention strategies, Olopade founded the Cancer Risk Clinic at the University of Chicago Medicine the following year.
In 2005, Olopade reported that mutations in genes that increase the risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2) were prevalent in African-American women and African women, groups that have high mortality rates from the disease. She continues to study the genetic basis of cancer, with a focus on improving global health.
In 2010, the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute funded a five-year study by Sonia Kupfer, MD, (University of Chicago) to look at genetic associations in African-American patients who have colorectal cancer.
In 2013, Jane Churpek, MD, and Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD along with colleagues at the University of Washington conducted a study that confirmed the high prevalence of mutations in cancer susceptibility genes among African-American patients diagnosed with breast cancer or with family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
Today, researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine continue to search for genetic mutations that may cause people to be vulnerable to cancer. Our research program takes a multidisciplinary approach to studying cancer genetics of people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds in the U.S. and across the globe. Focusing in both clinical and basic science research, our ultimate goal is to increase the speed at which laboratory research is translated into health care practices that directly benefit people, especially those populations that suffer from a disproportionate burden of cancer.