Professor Janet Davison Rowley was born in New York in 1925. In 1940, at the age of 15, she was awarded a scholarship to enter an advanced placement program at the University of Chicago (UC), where she finished the last two years of high school and the first two years of college concurrently, then continued at UC, earning a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in 1944, a Bachelor of Science degree in 1946, and MD in 1948, aged 23. She balanced her family life with her career by working part-time as she raised four sons until the youngest was 12 years old, when she began fulltime research. In 1951, she served as an attending physician at the Infant and Prenatal Clinics in the Department of Public Health in Maryland. From 1955-1961, she took up a research post at a clinic for children with developmental disabilities, while teaching neurology at the University of Illinois Medical School. In 1962, after spending a year in England studying the pattern of DNA replication in normal and abnormal human chromosomes, she returned to UC as an assistant Professor, becoming an associate professor in 1969, and a full professor in 1977. In 1984, she was named the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, and Human Genetics at UC, a position she still holds. In 2000-2001, she served as Interim Dean for Science at the Pritzker School of Medicine in UC.
Professor Rowley is one of the most distinguished cancer geneticists in the world. In the early 1970’s, she identified a specific genetic translocation (exchange of genetic material between chromosomes) in patients with leukemia. This discovery, along with her subsequent work on chromosomal abnormalities, revolutionized the medical understanding of the role of chromosomal
translocation and damage in causing cancer. Despite some initial resistance to her ideas, her work proved to be immensely influential, and by 1990 over 70 translocations were identified in different cancers.
Professor Rowley received numerous honors, including 9 honorary doctorate degrees, visiting professorship, a long list of honorary and named lectureships, fellowships of major national and international science academies and around 30 prestigious prizes and medals, including the Gairdner Prize, Lasker Prize, National Science Medal (the highest scientific honor in the United States), Gruber Prize in Genetics, King Faisal International Prize for Medicine and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor in the United States). She published around 500 scientific articles in leading international journals, and at the age of 85, she is still actively pursuing her research at UC.
Dr. Rowley showed that the translocations can be associated with the movement of regulatory genes known as oncogenes from their normal sites where their regulatory functions are lost, thus predisposing to malignancy. In addition to her major contribution to the cytogenetic identification of most of the subtypes of lymphoid and myeloid leukacmias, Dr.Rowley described the chromosomal abnormalities in an acute and refractory type of leukaemia that sometimes follows the treatment of other forms of cancer with radiotherapy or cytostatic drugs. Her other major contributions which have immediate practical applications include the mapping by molecular biological techniques of genes responsible for the production of interieukin 3 and macrophage colony stimulating factor on the human chromosome 5. She and her team have published over 220 scientific papers on the cytogenetics and molecular biology of leukaemic cells during the past 25 years. Dr.Rowley has been a. member of the editorial boards of a number of the leading national and international journals in the field. She died in 2013.