Dr. Barrett J. Rollins is chief scientific officer and faculty dean for academic affairs at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in Boston, and the Linde Family Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. After graduating from Amherst, Rollins earned his Ph.D. and medical doctorate from Case Western Reserve University in 1979 and 1980, respectively.
Rollins is recognized for both his pioneering clinical research and his organizational leadership. By adapting the effective practices of innovative businesses, Rollins has fostered a collaborative and curiosity-driven culture of rigorous inquiry at DFCI, attracting renowned faculty to several multidisciplinary research centers.
Since joining the DFCI faculty in 1989, Rollins has developed pioneering techniques that have enabled him to study white blood cell trafficking and the interactions between inflammation and cancer. His research has identified genetic mutations responsible for a rare childhood disease called Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a discovery which has led to highly effective treatments for that disease. He is the driving force behind DFCI’s Profile project, one of the nation’s most comprehensive precision cancer medicine initiatives. Profile aims to detect genetic alterations in tumors, and its genomic profiling database is derived from more than 13,000 patients, with 5,000 more added each year. Each patient’s sample is scanned for abnormalities in 300 cancer-causing genes, potentially providing a guide toward targeted treatments.
Rollins is also working to ensure access to these powerful techniques. “Panels of tests such as the kind that we do with Profile can help improve patient outcomes, but they are costly,” he wrote in The Boston Globe. “Currently these expenses are mainly being covered by philanthropy and institutional funds or out-of-pocket payment by patients, but this can’t continue.”
The results of the Profile project are given not only to medical providers and researchers at DFCI but also to a consortium of cancer centers, which makes the data publicly available with the aim of advancing cancer research worldwide.The project positions Rollins at the leading edge of understanding both the clinical and research impact of precision medicine.