Mendel Medal goes to renowned geneticist

Clare Murray

This year’s recipient of the Mendel Medal is Dr. Janet Jamison Rowley, the Blum-Riese Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Rowley will be presented with the medal at a ceremony Saturday in the Villanova Room by University President Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, O.S.A.

Rowley will also present a lecture Sunday on “Chromosome Translocations: Dangerous Liaisons” on Sunday. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by both Sigma Xi, the University’s scientific research society, and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Rowley, a specialist in chromosome abnormalities in human leukemia and lymphoma, discovered that fragments of two human chromosomes breaking off and switching places with each other cause myelogenous leukemia. Her work has contributed to the development of anti-cancer drugs, like Gleevec, approved by the FDA in 2001.

Rowley was a “whiz kid,” according to Norman Dollahon, an associate professor of biology at the University. She entered the University of Chicago at the age of 15 and at age 23 was one of six women in her class to graduate medical school in 1948. She was studying at Oxford University when she began to study the chromosomes of patients with leukemia.

Rowley, who has contributed to over 400 scientific papers, is a distinguished scientist with many awards to her credit. She also serves as a member of President Bush’s bioethics council.

In 1998, along with two others, she won the Lasker Award, which is considered “the American Nobel Prize,” according to Dollahon.

She has also won the National Medal of Science and a Medal of Honor from the American Cancer Society.

In addition to her busy professional life, Rowley juggled her work with raising a family. According to Dollahon, she “worked two to three days a week and spent the rest of her time with her family.”

The Mendel Medal, which is named for Gregor Mendel, the Augustinian priest considered to be the father of genetics, is awarded to a scientist who has achieved great success in the scientific field and has demonstrated that science and religion do not intrinsically conflict. The University has been awarding the medal since 1928.

According to “Blueprints,” a publication of the office of Communication and Public Affairs, as the recipient of the 2003 Mendel Medal, Rowley joins a distinguished group of scientists that include Nobel Laureates, medical researchers, pioneers in physics, astrophysics and chemistry and scientist-theologians of all faiths.