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Olopade receives prestigious award for transformative breast cancer research

University of Chicago Medicine breast cancer expert Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD, has been named the recipient of this year’s William L. McGuire Award and Lecture, one of the highest honors in breast cancer research, by the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS). Olopade is internationally renowned for her expertise in breast cancer, and her research has advanced early detection, treatment and prevention of breast cancer in women at high risk for the disease.

The William L. McGuire Memorial Lectureship was established in 1992 to commemorate the significant contributions to breast oncology by Dr. McGuire who, along with Charles A. Coltman, MD, founded SABCS in 1977. His research played a major role in introducing estrogen receptor assays on breast tumor tissue as a guide to treatment decisions for women with breast cancer. Breast cancer patients everywhere now receive these tests.

Previous recipients of the honor are some of the field’s most influential figures, including Bernard Fisher, MD, Craig Jordan, PhD, DSc, Benita S. Katzenellenbogen, PhD, Dennis Slamon, MD, PhD, Norman Wolmark, MD, and Mary-Claire King, PhD, to name a few.

“It is an honor to be recognized among a long line of leaders in breast cancer research,” said Olopade. “I am grateful to the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium for continuing to bring attention to innovations that can prevent cancer and save lives.”

Olopade accepted the award and delivered the lecture, “Heterogeneity of Breast Cancer Genomes: Going Beyond Therapy to Risk Assessment and Prevention,” at the SABCS Annual Meeting, December 7-10, 2021, in San Antonio. Many of Olopade’s colleagues attended the lecture.

“I was so proud to be present in San Antonio to see Dr. Olopade receive this prestigious award, which recognizes a lifetime of outstanding work in breast cancer research,” said Nora Jaskowiak, MD, Professor of Surgery and Surgical Director of the Breast Program at UChicago Medicine. “She is an inspiration!”

Rita Nanda, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of the Breast Oncology Program at UChicago Medicine, said, “It was my pleasure to see my mentor and colleague Dr. Olopade deliver her award lecture at the 2021 SABCS. She is a visionary, and I am so proud to see her work recognized in this way.”

Olopade, the Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics, Associate Dean for Global Health, and Director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center, is an expert in cancer risk assessment and individualized treatment for the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, having developed novel management strategies based on an understanding of the altered genes in individual patients.

In addition, she stresses comprehensive risk reducing strategies and prevention in high-risk populations, as well as earlier detection through advanced imaging technologies.

“Dr. Olopade is a globally influential and outstanding cancer clinician, researcher, geneticist, leader, mentor and humanitarian dedicated to eliminating breast cancer disparities in vulnerable populations across the globe,” said Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, AbbVie Foundation Director of the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center; Dean for Oncology, Biological Sciences Division; and AbbVie Foundation Distinguished Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“She is very deserving of such a distinguished award as recognition for her extraordinary leadership and sustained achievements in translational and clinical research that have transformed our understanding of breast cancer pathogenesis, risk and outcomes.”

Olopade came to the University of Chicago Medicine in 1987 and quickly built a reputation as an expert in hereditary forms of breast and ovarian cancers, with a focus on risk reduction, early detection and prevention in high-risk populations.

A distinguished scholar and mentor, Olopade has received numerous honors and awards including honorary degrees from six universities and a 2005 MacArthur Fellowship (“Genius grant”) for “translating findings on the molecular genetics of breast cancer in African and African-American women into innovative clinical practices in the United States and abroad.”

She is an elected member of the National Academy of Science, National Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Philosophical Society, to mention a few. She currently serves on the board of directors for the MacArthur Foundation, Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Lyric Opera.

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