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BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The Estée Lauder Companies Brands Award in Memory of Evelyn H. Lauder

Area(s) of Focus

Olufunmilayo (Funmi) I. Olopade, MB, BS, FACP

Associate Dean for Global Health
Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine
University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

Current Research

Project 1: The vision for 21st century medicine is to understand complex disease etiologies in order to achieve what is referred to as “the 4P’s”: predict individuals at risk, pre-empt disease development, personalize treatment, and ensure participation of diverse populations. Dr. Olopade’s laboratory has been at the forefront of breast cancer research, and they are advancing patient-oriented research to develop novel biomarkers for early detection of breast cancer in at risk women. Within the University of Chicago Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics, Dr. Olopade and colleagues have adopted emerging high throughput whole genome strategies including Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS), whole exome sequencing (WES), and whole genome sequencing (WGS) to identify breast cancer risk variants in diverse populations. Investigators now have novel tools to improve risk prediction. In addition, Dr. Olopade’s team has developed a protocol of intensive surveillance with biannual MRI and yearly mammograms to preempt disease development in high-risk women. They have made the observation for the first time that aggressive breast cancer in BRCA1/BRCA2 mutation carriers could be down-staged with biannual MRI screening.

Dr. Olopade’s team nows ask whether they can identify mutations in all known breast cancer susceptibility genes as well as identify novel biomarkers (splice variants, microRNAs and long non-coding RNAs) that are associated with population genetics, tumor subtype, early detection, propensity to metastasis, and response to therapy in breast cancer. Their ultimate goal is to use this knowledge to develop effective diagnostic tools for personalized risk prediction and novel therapies for personalized cancer medicine in diverse populations of women.

Project 2: In a separate effort that has been supported by BCRF over the course of several years, Dr. Olopade is helping to develop a robust infrastructure for conducting breast cancer clinical research in Nigeria. Dr. Olopade and her colleagues are transforming the quality of breast cancer care in the country and throughout Africa. Upon completion of the first investigator-initiated clinical breast cancer trial led by local investigators in Sub-Saharan Africa, Dr. Olopade’s team has attracted additional support from other pharmaceutical companies and is planning new studies that will allow African doctors to “leap frog” using modern information technologies and to begin incorporating effective therapies in their management of breast cancer patients. This should be cost effective for the country in managing cancer treatment resources in the long run.

Mid-Year Summary

Project 1: There are many critical issues concerning the management, integration and analysis of large volumes of genomic data such as will be developed in several ongoing projects in Dr. Olopade’s laboratory and within the network of investigators studying genetic and epigenetic factors in breast cancer. Her team has previously shown that epigenetic pathways drive changes in miRNA expression and subsequently contribute to cancer phenotypes. They now show that miR-29c is a significantly down regulated miRNA in basal-like breast cancers, which tend to have poorer clinical outcomes and preferentially affects young women and women of African ancestry. To make sense of all the important genomic discoveries of the past decade, the researchers are developing a robust common data retrieval platform that integrates all genomic and phenotypic data for use as a clinical oncology data resource by physicians who care for patients with breast cancer. In particular, Dr. Olopade’s team is making efforts to enhance bioinformatics tools and make them more useful for the clinical research community.

Project 2: Dr. Olopade reports that over the first half of the 2013-14 grant year, her team has continued to strengthen the translational research infrastructure at their partner sites in Nigeria to ensure successful sample collection and translational research sustainability. The laboratory at the University of Ibadan has increased capability to perform DNA/RNA extraction and analysis, immunohistochemistry, and biosimilar/pharmacoequivalence studies as well as biochemical studies including HB Variant analysis for disease monitoring. In collaboration with Novartis, they held a planning workshop at the African Organization for Research in Cancer Conference in Durban, South Africa. Their goal is to use ongoing studies to prepare African investigators as full participants in global cancer clinical trials. The accompanying study protocol has been developed and written by the Ibadan Multidisciplinary team and will be submitted to the Ethical Review Boards at both partner sites and to the IRB at the University of Chicago.


Funmi Olopade directs a multidisciplinary clinical and laboratory research program in cancer genetics at the University of Chicago Medical Center. This program helps speed the transfer of basic research in cancer genetics to the benefit of people. Dr. Olopade combines extensive family studies with genetic testing to develop strategies for prevention and/or early detection in patients at high risk for cancer.

In October, 2008, in recognition of her work, Dr. Olopade was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. In February 2011, Dr. Olopade was nominated by President Barack Obama for membership on the National Cancer Advisory Board.

Dr. Olopade is an international leader in the field of clinical cancer genetics, a field that seeks to identify and understand the various genes that contribute to cancer susceptibility, how these genes interact with one another and how they are affected by environmental factors. Her current laboratory research is focused on tumor suppressor genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 that predispose to breast and ovarian cancers. As a hematologist/oncologist, Dr. Olopade specializes in the treatment of aggressive breast cancer that disproportionately affects young women.

Dr. Olopade received her medical degree with distinction from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria and served as a medical officer at the Nigerian Navy Hospital. She came to the United States as a resident in internal medicine at Cook County Hospital, Chicago, where she was named Chief Medical Resident. She did her Hematology/Oncology Fellowship training at the University of Chicago and was appointed to the faculty in 1991. A former James S. McDonnell Foundation Scholar, Dr. Olopade currently is a Doris Duke Distinguished Clinical Scientist.

Dr. Olopade is a member of many professional societies including the American Association for Cancer Research, American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Society of Hematology, American College of Physicians and the American Society of Breast Diseases. She serves on the Steering Committee of the NCI Cooperative Family Registry for Breast Cancer Studies and the Advisory Committee of the Cancer Genetics Network. Dr. Olopade is a member of the NCI Board of Scientific Counselors.

Dr. Olopade, BCRF investigator since 2001, participates on panel at the World Science Festival discussing the relationship between cancer and genetics. Read more.

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