Janet Rowley

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Janet Rowley
Janet Rowley 2009.jpg
Rowley at the White House in August 2009
Born Janet Davison Rowley
(1925-04-05)April 5, 1925
New York City, New York
Died December 17, 2013(2013-12-17) (aged 88)
Chicago, Illinois
Institutions University of Chicago
Alma mater University of Chicago
Known for Identification chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers
Notable awards

Janet Davison Rowley (April 5, 1925 – December 17, 2013) was an American human geneticist and the first scientist to identify a chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15]

Early life and education

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 degree 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 an 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 worked part-time until the youngest of her four sons 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 College of Medicine.

In 1962, after a year in England[citation needed] 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, and between 15 and 17 in promyelocytic leukemia.[16]

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.[16] 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.

Awards and honors

In 1984, Dr. Rowley was made the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. She also served as the interim deputy dean for science. 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 1998.[17] In 2003, she received the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences of the American Philosophical Society.[18] In 2009, Dr. Rowley was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom,[19] the United States' highest civilian honor, and the Gruber Prize in Genetics. in 2012, Dr. Rowley was selected for the Hope Funds for Cancer Research Award of excellence in the area of Basic Research and was elected to the Hope Funds Scientific Advisory Board. Also in 2012, She won the Japan Prize with two other scientists for her role in the creation of Gleevec. She published more than five hundred articles and continued her research at the University of Chicago until shortly before her death.


On December 17, 2013, Rowley died at the age of 88 from complications of ovarian cancer.[20]


  1. Druker, Brian J. (2014). "Janet Rowley (1925–2013) Geneticist who discovered that broken chromosomes cause cancer". Nature. 505 (7484): 484. doi:10.1038/505484a. PMID 24451535.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Janet Rowley's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier.
  3. Rowley, J. D. (1973). "Letter: A new consistent chromosomal abnormality in chronic myelogenous leukaemia identified by quinacrine fluorescence and Giemsa staining". Nature. 243 (5405): 290–293. doi:10.1038/243290a0. PMID 4126434.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Golub, T. R.; Barker, G. F.; Bohlander, S. K.; Hiebert, S. W.; Ward, D. C.; Bray-Ward, P.; Morgan, E.; Raimondi, S. C.; Rowley, J. D.; Gilliland, D. G. (1995). "Fusion of the TEL gene on 12p13 to the AML1 gene on 21q22 in acute lymphoblastic leukemia". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 92 (11): 4917–4921. doi:10.1073/pnas.92.11.4917. PMC 41818. PMID 7761424.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Erickson, P.; Gao, J.; Chang, K. S.; Look, T.; Whisenant, E.; Raimondi, S.; Lasher, R.; Trujillo, J.; Rowley, J.; Drabkin, H. (1992). "Identification of breakpoints in t(8;21) acute myelogenous leukemia and isolation of a fusion transcript, AML1/ETO, with similarity to Drosophila segmentation gene, runt". Blood. 80 (7): 1825–1831. PMID 1391946.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Thirman, M. J.; Gill, H. J.; Burnett, R. C.; Mbangkollo, D.; McCabe, N. R.; Kobayashi, H.; Ziemin-Van Der Poel, S.; Kaneko, Y.; Morgan, R.; Sandberg, A. A.; Chaganti, R. S. K.; Larson, R. A.; Le Beau, M. M.; Diaz, M. O.; Rowley, J. D. (1993). "Rearrangement of the MLL Gene in Acute Lymphoblastic and Acute Myeloid Leukemias with 11q23 Chromosomal Translocations". New England Journal of Medicine. 329 (13): 909–914. doi:10.1056/NEJM199309233291302. PMID 8361504.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Rowley, J. D. (2013). "A Story of Swapped Ends". Science. 340 (6139): 1412–1413. doi:10.1126/science.1241318. PMID 23788787.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Novak, K. (2006). "Profile: Janet Rowley". Nature Medicine. 12 (1): 10. doi:10.1038/nm0106-10. PMID 16397540.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Printz, C. (2010). "Janet Rowley, MD, continues to explore genetic causes of leukemia". Cancer. 116 (2): 261–262. doi:10.1002/cncr.24932. PMID 20091852.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Olopade, O. I. (2014). "Obituary: Janet Davison Rowley 1925-2013". Cell. 156 (3): 390–1. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.01.015. PMID 24757717.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Goss, K. H.; Le Beau, M. M. (2014). "Janet Davidson Rowley (1925-2013)". Cancer Cell. 25 (1): 1–2. doi:10.1016/j.ccr.2013.12.020. PMID 24654260.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Kreuzer, K. A.; Borregaard, N (2014). "In memoriam Janet D. Rowley (1925-2013) and John M. Goldman (1938-2013)". European Journal of Haematology. 92 (4): 275. doi:10.1111/ejh.12295. PMID 24649922.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Hokland, P (2014). "Janet Rowley 1925-2013: A rock star of haematology and genetics". British Journal of Haematology. 165 (3): 269–70. doi:10.1111/bjh.12808. PMID 24588512.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Greaves, M (2014). "Retrospective. Janet Rowley (1925-2013)". Science. 343 (6171): 626. doi:10.1126/science.1251005. PMID 24503847.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Janet D. Rowley 1925-2013". Genes, Chromosomes and Cancer. 53 (4): 275–6. 2014. doi:10.1002/gcc.22156. PMID 24496781.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. 16.0 16.1 Wapner J.The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Genetic Mystery, a Lethal Cancer, and the Improbable Invention of a Lifesaving Treatment. ISBN 9781615191970
  17. National Science Foundation - The President's National Medal of Science
  18. "Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences Recipients". American Philosophical Society. Retrieved November 26, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients", White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 30, 2009
  20. "Cancer Genetics Pioneer Dies". Huffington Post. December 18, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading