James L. Wittliff, MD, PhD

In July 2023, we changed our name from AACC (short for the American Association for Clinical Chemistry) to the Association for Diagnostics & Laboratory Medicine (ADLM). The following page was written prior to this rebranding and contains mentions of the association’s old name. It may contain other out-of-date information as well.

2014 Morton K. Schwartz Award for Significant Contributions in Cancer Research Diagnostics

James L. Wittliff, MD, PhD

A distinguished investigator, inventor, and educator, Dr. Wittliff is director of the Institute for Molecular Diversity and Drug Design and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Louisville. When he was based at the University of Rochester, he and his research team pioneered methods for purifying steroid hormone receptor proteins to study their relationships in human breast cancer. Dr. Wittliff was among the first investigators to discover that estrogen receptors serve as a biomarker predicting a patient's risk of recurrence and response to hormone therapy. When he moved to the University of Louisville to chair of the department of biochemistry, his research expanded to other endocrine-associated carcinomas. His team helped establish tamoxifen as adjuvant therapy for breast cancer and the use of receptor proteins as tissue biomarkers of a patient's prognosis and therapy response. Dr. Wittliff worked with DuPont NEN to develop the first tissue-based diagnostic kits for breast cancer to receive Food and Drug Administration approval for assessing estrogen and progestin receptors in biopsies in a standardized manner. His laboratory was designated the national reference facility by the National Cancer Institute for performing quality assurance of receptor testing and training courses for more than 400 laboratories worldwide conducting historic clinical trials. Dr. Wittliff and IA, Inc., patented receptor-based fiber-optic biosensors that detect endocrine-disrupting compounds in the environment. His work with Arcturus Applied Genomics on the genomics of human breast cancer using laser capture microdissection led to the development of a tumor marker database and biorepository. Dr. Wittliff was a member of a national panel that established guidelines for testing of estrogen and progestin receptors in human tissue biopsies. His awards include the University of Louisville President's Award for Career Achievements, the AACC Award for Outstanding Contributions to Clinical Chemistry in a Selected Area of Research, and the American Cancer Society's Goldsmith Research Excellence Award.

2001 Outstanding Contributions in a Selected Area of Research

Dr. Larry J. Kricka, President of AACC, recently announced that the Awards Committee has selected James L. Wittliff, PhD, FACB, distinguished investigator at the University of Louisville, as the recipient of the award for Outstanding Contributions to Clinical Chemistry in a Selected Area of Research. Dr. Wittliff received an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and a PhD degree in Molecular Biology from the University of Texas at Austin, and a MS degree in Biochemistry at Louisiana State University, School of Medicine. His postdoctoral studies were conducted in the Biology Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Before joining the University of Louisville in 1976 as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry, he assisted in the development of the Cancer Center at the University of Rochester, where he was Director of the Section on Endocrine Biochemistry and a member of the Department of Biochemistry.

Dr. Wittliff and his research team are internationally recognized for innovative studies on the molecular mechanisms by which estrogens promote signal transduction in healthy tissue and breast cancer. He was one of the first investigators to identify a correlation between the presence of estrogen receptor proteins in a breast cancer biopsy and response to either additive or surgical ablative hormone therapy. This finding contributed significantly to collaborative studies with the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast Projects (NSABP), which established the use of Tamoxifen as an adjuvant therapy for breast cancer. His results also helped extend the use of estrogen and progestin receptors as tissue markers of a breast cancer patient's prognosis. Dr. Wittliff's discovery of frequent receptor polymorphism in human breast cancer led to the prediction of the presence of another isoform of the estrogen receptor, confirmed recently as ERbeta.

A major contribution to laboratory medicine was made when Dr. Wittliff, working with NEN/DuPont, developed the first FDA-approved kits for assessing steroid receptor concentrations in tumor biopsies. Complementing this effort, Dr. Wittliff's laboratory in the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, University of Louisville, was designated the National Reference Facility for performing quality assurance surveys of receptor testing for cooperative clinical trial groups in the United States and Canada. His laboratory continues to serve the profession by collaborating with the College of American Pathologists in providing proficiency surveys for these analytes.

Dr. Wittliff's laboratory has provided comprehensive graduate training in molecular endocrinology for more than three decades, and the International Scholars Program he founded in 1969 has attracted more than 75 research scientists and students from 31 countries. He and his research fellows have published several hundred scientific papers and book chapters on steroid and peptide hormone receptors, covering both basic and clinical aspects. In addition to numerous professorships at universities in Europe, Asia, and Africa, he was a recipient of the George Grannis Research Award and elected a Fellow of the NACB in 1984. Dr. Wittliff and Rosalyn Yalow (Nobel Laureate) received the Distinguished Scientist Awards from the Clinical Ligand Assay Society in 1988. Dr. Wittliff was appointed Inaugural Guest Professor at the Institute of Applied Microbiology in Vienna, Austria in 1992, where he continues to serve as Visiting Professor in addition to his duties as Director of the Hormone Receptor Laboratory in the Brown Cancer Center. He was elected President of the International Clinical Ligand Assay Society in 1996.

In recognition of his research and clinical contributions to the biology and treatment of cancer, the University of Innsbruck, Austria awarded Dr. Wittliff the degree, Doctor of Medicine honoris causa in 1998. Currently, Dr. Wittliff is serving as Visiting Industry Professor at Arcturus Applied Genomics in San Diego, where he is conducting research on the gene expression profiles of healthy and neoplastic cells procured by a novel technology called Laser Capture Microdissection.

1985 The George F. Grannis Award For Excellence In Research And Scientific Publication

James L. Wittliff, PhD, FACB was honored with AACC's 1985 George F. Grannis Award for Excellence in Research and Scientific Publication.