Janet Davidson Rowley was born in New York City. She received her BS, PhD and MD degrees from the University of Chicago. Her interest in cytogenetics was sparked by her work as a Research Fellow in a clinic for retarded children at Cook County Hospital, Chicago, in the early days of human cytogenetics, and led to postdoctoral research at Oxford University in 1961-62 and again in 1970-71. She developed her academic career at the University of Chicago where she became a full Professor in 1978 even though she worked only three days a week while her children were young. She received certification by the American Board of Medical Genetics in 1982 and was awarded the Blum-Riese Distinquished Service Professorship in 1984.
Dr. Rowley has virtually single-handedly changed the view of the hematology/oncology community and of the cancer biology community regarding the critical importance of recurring chromosome abnormalities in leukemia and lymphoma. She has provided some of the most persuasive evidence that tumours are associated with specific cytogenetic changes which reflect critical genetic changes.