The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) has announced the passing of Dr. Albert de la Chapelle, a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Cancer Biology and Genetics at Ohio State who played a key role in developing and leading the university’s human cancer genetics program to prominence.
De la Chapelle, 87, died Thursday of natural causes, just nine months after the March 2020 passing of his wife Clara D. Bloomfield, also a Distinguished University Professor who for many years served as cancer scholar and senior adviser to the OSUCCC – James. He was in the Cancer Biology Program and formerly co-led that program when it was known as Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics.
With De la Chapelle’s passing, the world has lost a pioneer in the field of human cancer genetics whose work, which spanned more than half a century and included over 800 publications in scientific journals, led to seminal discoveries about the molecular and genetic nature of cancer, setting the stage for the development of innovative treatments.
Considered to be one of the most prominent scientists in Finland when he was recruited to Ohio State, De la Chapelle received numerous accolades and awards during his long career, including his election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (now the National Academy of Medicine) and a lifetime achievement award from the Collaborative Group of the Americas on Inherited Colorectal Cancer (CGA-ICC), which works to improve understanding of inherited colorectal cancer and the clinical management of affected families. The CGA president at that time described De la Chapelle as “truly a giant in the field of genetics and specifically in colorectal cancer genetics” whose discoveries “paved the way for identification, diagnosis and cancer prevention in patients with mismatch repair mutations.”
One of De la Chapelle’s most important achievements in cancer genetics was helping to identify and map four genes (mismatch repair genes) that cause Lynch syndrome, an inherited disorder that makes certain families susceptible to colorectal cancer. He emphasized applying laboratory discoveries to the development of diagnostic procedures and treatments, including a test used to screen people for LS and studies that led to recommendations for the universal screening of patients with colorectal cancer for LS so that, if they tested positive, their relatives could be notified and screened for the syndrome as well.
De la Chapelle’s work helped lead to the Ohio Colorectal Cancer Prevention Initiative, a statewide initiative that includes 50 hospitals throughout Ohio and was funded in part by Pelotonia, the annual cycling event that raises money for cancer research at Ohio State.