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Rowley at the White House in August 2009

Janet Davison Rowley (born April 5, 1925) is an American human geneticist and the first scientist to identify a chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers.

Janet Davison was born in New York City in 1925, the only child of Hurford and Ethel Ballantyne Davison. Her father held a master of business administration from Harvard Business School, and her mother a master's degree in education from Columbia University. Her parents were educators at the college and high school levels, respectively, and her mother later gave up teaching to become a school librarian.

Davison attended the academically challenging junior high school in New Jersey and became especially interested in science. In 1940, aged 15, she was granted a scholarship to study in an advanced placement program at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools where she finished high school and the first two years of college, followed by completion of her degree at the University of Chicago, where she earned a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in 1944, a bachelor of science degree in 1946, and doctor of medicine degree in 1948, aged 23. She married Donald Adams Rowley, also a physician, the day after graduating from medical school. Rowley balanced family life with her career by working part-time as she raised four sons. She began full-time research when the youngest was 12 years old.

After earning her medical license in 1951, Dr. Rowley worked as attending physician at the Infant and Prenatal Clinics in the Department of Public Health, Montgomery County, Maryland. In 1955 she took up a research post at Chicago's Dr. Julian Levinson Foundation, a clinic for children with developmental disabilities, where she remained until 1961. She also taught neurology at the University of Illinois School of Medicine.

In 1962, after a year in England as an NIH trainee, studying the pattern DNA replication in normal and abnormal human chromosomes, Dr. Rowley returned to the University of Chicago, as a research associate in the Department of Hematology. She became an associate professor in 1969, and a full professor in 1977. In the 1970s, she further developed the use of existing methods of quinacrine fluorescence and Giemsa staining to identify chromosomes, and demonstrated that the abnormal Philadelphia chromosome implicated in certain types of leukemia was involved in a translocation with chromosome 9 in some cases. Translocation is the process by which a piece of one chromosome breaks off and joins another chromosome, or when two chromosomes exchange material when both break. She also identified translocation between chromosomes 8 and 21 in acute myelogenous leukemia.

When Dr. Rowley published her findings in the 1970s, she argued that specific translocations caused specific diseases, going against the established view of the cause of cancer which gave little significance to chromosomal abnormalities. Although there was some resistance to her ideas at first, her work has proven immensely influential, and by 1990 over seventy translocations had been identified across different cancers.

In 1984, Dr. Rowley was made the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, a position she still holds, as well as serving as the interim deputy dean for science since 2001. In 1998, she was one of three scientists awarded the prestigious Lasker Award for their work on translocation, and received the National Medal of Science in 1999. In 2009, Dr. Rowley was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom[1], the United States' highest civilian honor, and the Gruber Prize in Genetics. She has published more than four hundred articles and continues her research at the University of Chicago.

Notes

  1. ^ "President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients", White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 30, 2009

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