University of Chicago cancer specialist elected to the National Academy of Science's prestigious Institute of Medicine

Olufunmilayo F. Olopade, M.D., the Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor in Medicine and Human Genetics and director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics at the University of Chicago, has been elected to the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine.

Olopade is one of 65 new members and five foreign associates selected for 2008. She joins 10 current members of the University of Chicago faculty, most of whom are cancer specialists, on the IOM.

The Institute of Medicine is both an honorific membership organization and a policy research organization. Membership in the Institute is considered "one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements and commitment to service," according to the IOM. The Institute's members serve without compensation in the conduct of studies and other activities on matters of significance to health.

Current active members 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 IOM has become recognized as a national resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis and recommendations on health issues.

"It is a great pleasure to welcome these distinguished and influential individuals to the Institute of Medicine," said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg. "Members are elected through a highly selective process that recognizes people who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care, and public health.

"It is an honor and a privilege to be selected," said Olopade. "Many of the leading physicians and scientists in the country are members of the Institute. It is also a considerable and a 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, 51, who won a McArthur "genius grant" in 2005, has a special interest in young women especially women of African ancestry, who are at higher risk for the more aggressive breast cancer. She has showed that breast cancers in these women often produce a pattern of gene expression that is significantly different from that seen in older white women and are less likely to present the molecular targets that form the basis of many standard therapies.

As a clinician, her interests include 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. The clinic also focuses on quality-of-life issues for young breast cancer patients, including concerns related to pregnancy, fertility, and employment.

Olopade is one of the principal investigators in two large-scale, multi-year, research projects. One, the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research, is a $9 million cross-disciplinary effort, based at the University of Chicago 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.

The other is a Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant from the National Cancer Institute to the University of Chicago Cancer Research Center for a series of projects designed to benefit women at high risk for breast cancer. The 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 grew up in Nigeria, retains close ties with cancer specialists there and returns frequently to teach, for research and to visit. She 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. In 1986, she completed an internship and residency at the Cook County Hospital, in Chicago, and trained in hematology and oncology as a postdoctoral fellow (1987-1991) at the University of Chicago, where she has been on the faculty since 1991.

Olopade has received many honors including the American Society for Clinical Oncology Young Investigator Award in 1991, and the James S. McDonnell Foundation Scholar Award in 1992 and the Doris Duke Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award in 2000. In 2003, she received the "Phenomenal Woman Award" in recognition of her work within the African-American community. She received the Heroes in Health care award from the Access Community Network in 2005.

Olopade is married to Dr. Christopher 'Sola Olopade, a physician at the University of Illinois at Chicago who specializes in the treatment of asthma and sleep disorders. They have 3 children and live near the University of Chicago in the Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhood.