An 84-year-old University of Chicago researcher has won a half-million-dollar genetics prize for her pioneering work in showing that cancer is a genetic disease.

Dr. Janet Davison Rowley on Wednesday was named the 2009 winner of the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation's 2009 genetics prize for her research on recurring chromosome abnormalities in leukemias and lymphomas.

Her work has improved understanding and led to new cancer treatments.

The $500,000 cash prize comes with no strings attached.

Rowley enrolled at the University of Chicago in 1940 at age 15, earning a medical degree. She married and raised four boys before launching her scientific career in 1962.