Janet Rowley (1925-2013)
New York City, New York, USA
Digital Illustration, 24" x 32", 2022
While working for the University of Chicago as a professor in 1972, Janet Rowley identified an abnormal Philadelphia chromosome. This abnormal chromosome was found in certain types of leukemia and was formed by translocation. Translocation occurs when one piece of the chromosome breaks off, joins with another, forming a new chromosome. Through this research, Rowley identified chromosomal translocation as the cause of acute myelogenous leukemia and many other cancers, proving cancer can be a genetic disease.
Rowley’s contract at the university included a lab space, a microscope and a yearly salary of $5,000. She spent many years struggling to convince other researchers of her finding. Eventually they learned that her legendary discovery opened doors for understanding how to fight leukemia and other cancers. Rowley used her research to aid in the formation of the drug retinoid acid, which helped certain protein receptors return to normal function. This allowed cancer patients to be treated outside the hospital with oral medication.
In her career, she was honored with several awards, as well as Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. She raised four boys with her husband and worked three days a week at a Chicago clinic that helped children with Down syndrome.