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Olopade Awarded MacArthur "Genius" Grant

By Colleen Chandler
November 2005

Olufunmilayo Falusi Olopade
Olufunmilayo Falusi Olopade (Photo Courtesy of the University of Chicago)

NIEHS grantee Olufunmilayo Falusi Olopade, an oncologist, founder and director of the Cancer Risk Clinic, and professor of medicine and human genetics at the University of Chicago, was named a MacArthur Fellow for 2005.

Olopade is one of four investigators in a large multi-year, cross-disciplinary breast-cancer study to identify genetic and environmental factors that contribute to breast cancer. The study will examine the role of genes, lifestyle, socioeconomics, social interaction and breast cancer. The study is an initiative under the NIH Centers of Population Health and Health Disparities, a $60 million project funded over five years and initiated by NIEHS, said Fred Tyson, program administrator for DERT's Population Health and Susceptibility Branch. NIEHS will contribute $20 million over the five-year course of the project to fund eight such centers nationwide.

Olopade, from Nigeria, is one of 24 people who were selected by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The award was $500,000. She was selected for "translating findings on the molecular genetics of breast cancer in African-American women into innovative clinical practices," said a University of Chicago press release.

Olopade's research focuses on women of African ancestry, who have a substantially higher risk for the more aggressive breast cancer and who are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age. According to an article in Medicine on the Midway, a University of Chicago publication, African-American women are 50 percent more likely to get breast cancer before menopause. About half of the breast cancer cases among black women under age 50 are estrogen-receptor negative, which means some of the most promising treatments that target estrogen receptors will not be effective. Her research found that breast cancer in African women often produce a different gene pattern than that found in Caucasian women, and tumors in African women are more likely to originate from a different group of cells within the breast.

Her clinical interests include finding and testing improved methods for predicting, preventing and early detection of cancer for moderate- and high-risk patients. She founded the Cancer Risk Clinic in 1992 at University of Chicago Hospitals.

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