November 10, 2008
Vol. 28 No. 4

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    Olopade joins other cancer specialists in Institute of Medicine

    By John Easton
    Medical Center Communications

    Funmilayo Olopade (right) talks with a patient.

    Olufunmilayo Olopade, a leading researcher studying the causes of a particularly aggressive breast cancer that places young women of African descent at high risk, has been elected to the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine.

    Olopade, the Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor in Medicine and Human Genetics and Director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics, is one of 65 new members and five foreign associates selected this year. She joins 10 Chicago faculty members, most of whom are cancer specialists, who also are Institute of Medicine members.

    The Institute of Medicine is both an honorific membership organization and a policy research organization. Without compensation, members conduct studies and inform policy on matters of significance to health. “It is a great pleasure to welcome these distinguished and influential individuals to the Institute of Medicine,” said Harvey Fineberg, institute president.

    Olopade noted the honor. “Many of the leading physicians and scientists in the country are members of the institute. Membership is a considerable responsibility. This is a group that policy-makers turn to when they need an expert and unbiased assessment of a challenging problem. I look forward to working with such a distinguished group on these difficult issues.”

    As a scientist, Olopade, who won a McArthur “genius grant” in 2005, has shown that breast cancers in young women of African ancestry often produce a pattern of gene expression that is significantly different from that seen in older white women, and these young women are less likely to present the molecular targets that form the basis of many standard therapies.

    As a clinician, she is interested in finding and testing improved methods for prediction, prevention and early detection of cancer for moderate- and high-risk populations. In the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics, which she started in 1992, Olopade coordinates preventive care and testing for healthy patients and their families who, because of genetics or family history, are at increased risk for cancer.

    Olopade is one of the principal investigators in two large-scale, multi-year research projects. One project, the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research, is a $9 million cross-disciplinary effort, based at the University and supported by the National Institutes of Health, to sort out the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to breast cancer. The study looks at the genes, lifestyle, socioeconomic status and social interactions of women in the United States and Africa and their relationship to breast cancer.

    Supported by a Specialized Programs of Research Excellence grant from the National Cancer Institute, the University’s Cancer Research Center administers another project that is designed to benefit women at high risk for breast cancer.

    This grant provides $11.5 million over five years to support innovative, translational research with a global strategy. The researchers focus on women with genetic differences that increase their odds of developing aggressive breast cancer at a young age. They will search for better ways to prevent, detect and treat women at increased risk.

    Olopade, who received her M.D. in 1980 from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and served as a medical officer at the Nigerian Navy Hospital in Lagos, also completed an internship and residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. She also trained in hematology and oncology as a postdoctoral fellow at the University, where she has been on the faculty since 1991.

    She has received many honors, including the American Society for Clinical Oncology Young Investigator Award, the James S. McDonnell Foundation Scholar Award and the Doris Duke Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award.

    Current active members of the Institute of Medicine elect new members from among candidates nominated for their accomplishments and contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health.

    Established in 1970 as a component of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine has become recognized as a national resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis and recommendations on health issues.