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Olufunmilayo (Funmi) F. Olopade, MD, FACP
Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine
Professor of Human Genetics
Founding Director, Cancer Risk Clinic
Associate Dean for Global Health
University of Chicago
Goal: To improve access to quality care and prevention and breast cancer outcomes in underserved African women.
Impact: Dr. Olopade has opened the first cancer risk clinic in Nigeria, where she and her team can conduct clinical trials and provide underserved women with genetic counseling and testing.
What’s next: She plans to launch several investigations into the drivers of breast cancer in Nigeria and across Sub-Saharan African, which could help doctors tailor treatments to the needs of each patient in the region.
Women of African descent are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive breast cancers than white women and are more likely to die from their disease. For those living in remote or low-resource areas, limited access to screening and genetic testing makes improving outcomes even more challenging. Dr. Olopade has built the infrastructure necessary to conduct clinical trials in one of these areas in Africa. Data derived from these clinical trials will help women at high risk of breast cancer access quality care.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Identifying ways to ensure that underserved women at high risk of breast cancer receive quality preventive screening and treatment.
Impact: Women of African descent are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive breast cancers, and at a younger age, than white women. They are also more likely to die from their disease. Differences in tumor biology, genomics and health care delivery patterns all contribute to the breast cancer mortality gap. Those living in low-resource communities have limited access to screening or genetic testing, compounding the challenges clinicians face in reducing these deaths. Therefore, it is important to identify biomarkers that can predict which patients will progress, either at diagnosis or before recurrence. Dr. Olopade is unraveling the root causes of the disparities in breast cancer outcomes by studying the genomic landscape of breast cancer that can then inform biomarker-based clinical trials. Through these efforts, Dr. Olopade and her team will help to decrease the global burden of breast cancer by informing the development of novel targeted treatments and increasing access to quality diagnostic tools and optimal standard of care treatments for women in low-resource settings.
Current investigation: Dr. Olopade and her team is expanding the translational research platform they have developed to four Nigerian sites and conducting two clinical trials at these sites.
What she’s learned so far: With the support of BCRF, Dr. Olopade and her team have established robust clinical trials infrastructure in Nigeria and increased the capabilities of oncologists in Nigeria to perform clinical trials. They have successfully conducted genetic epidemiology studies that have advanced the understanding of the burden of breast cancer among young women, especially those with BRCA-associated breast cancers. Her team has shown a high prevalence of mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes among women with breast cancer in Uganda, Cameroon and Nigeria. The mutation frequency suggests a significant burden of heritable risk factors across these sub-Saharan African countries.
What’s next: She and her colleagues have applied their findings to launch two genomic biomarker-based oncology clinical trials in several sites across Nigeria. They will analyze information from these ongoing clinical trials to identify characteristics of patients who have an exceptional response to treatment. The results of these studies will improve clinical care and inform treatment decisions to close the mortality gap between women in high resource areas versus those in low resource areas. Dr. Olopade will also continue to develop a strong clinical research infrastructure throughout Nigeria, which can be used to further strengthen the country’s capacity to address and respond to emerging cancer care needs.
Dr. Olopade's research interests are diverse and include: 1) treatment of breast cancer, especially in young or pregnant women; 2) familial cancers; 3) molecular genetics of cancer; 4) cancer risk assessment and chemoprevention; 5) breast cancer and minority populations; 6) disparities in health outcomes. She has maintained externally funded laboratory and clinical research programs in cancer genetics since 1990. Currently, Dr. Olopade is the Principal Investigator on grants from the NIH/NCI, the Falk Medical Research Trust, The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Entertainment Industry Foundation, and the Avon Foundation. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has recognized her as a Distinguished Clinical Scientist and Exceptional Mentor.