October 21, 2008

Pritzker professor’s cancer research earns her recognition by National Academy of Science

Olufunmilayo F. Olopade, a professor at the Pritzker School of Medicine, has been elected as a member of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to foster public heath by promoting scientific achievements. Olopade was one of 65 members elected this year.

Olopade, director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics at Pritzker, sees her new appointment as an opportunity to enhance the public benefits of the University’s breast cancer research.

“One of the things I’m interested in is the translation of information from laboratory to bedside,” she said.

Her background as a practicing doctor, both in her home country of Nigeria and here in Chicago, has allowed her to observe firsthand the impact of breast cancer on young women, she said. Her experiences have led her to focus her research on medical treatments that “empower young women,” she said, allowing them to manage their cancers in ways that enable them to continue living their normal lives, developing their careers, and maintaining healthy family lives.

“We’re interested in turning cancer into a chronic disease,” Olopade said, explaining that she hopes to shift perceptions of breast cancer. Ultimately, Olopade hopes that women living with breast cancer and their loved ones will see cancer not as a virulent illness but instead as a condition that requires long-term management.

This approach has led to one of Olopade’s more recent projects, a new method of breast cancer treatment in the form of an estrogen-interfering pill. The pill is currently under experimentation to evaluate its potential to treat women of African descent, some of whom are genetically predisposed to more severe forms of breast cancer. When combined with other methods, the pill would stifle the multiplication of cancerous cells, promoting an effective cancer control regimen. This pill is notable not only for its role in cancer medicine, but also because it is one of the first treatments to be tested widely in Africa, due in part to Olopade’s continued connections to her birthplace.

Since moving to Chicago, she has maintained ties to the medical communities in Africa, working with doctors to communicate progress in her field and providing a link between the two medical communities.