The Arizona Cancer Center Executive Committee chose Christina Laukaitis, MD, PhD, FACP, to receive the first Yellen Young Investigator Award. The $15,000 unrestricted gift is from Cancer Center board member Barry Yellen and his wife, Pat.
Dr. Laukaitis’ clinical training and research focus on patients at high risk of cancer due to genetic syndromes. As part of the Arizona Cancer Center’s High-Risk Cancer Genetics Clinic, she cares for women who carry BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations and are at high risk of breast cancer and for people at risk of GI and endocrine cancers because of other gene changes. She works to prevent cancer through individual risk assessment, counseling and delivery of prevention strategies tailored to each patient’s specific risk level and concurrent health issues.
Dr. Laukaitis is conducting studies on hereditary cancer syndromes such as Familial Adenomatous Polypsis (FAP), which leads to colon cancer. FAP is caused by an inherited mutation in the APC gene that initiates the development of colon cancer through the same genetic pathway that causes sporadic colorectal cancer in the general population. However, nearly 100 percent of people with FAP develop colorectal cancer by the age of 50, almost two decades earlier than the development of sporadic colorectal cancer in the general population. Dr. Laukaitis will use the Yellen Young Investigator Award to further her FAP research.
"I plan to use the award to unravel the complex structure of the APC gene region in a family with clinical FAP but without a classic APC gene mutation," she said. "This will accomplish three goals: to develop the infrastructure for collecting and analyzing genetic samples from patients in our high-risk clinic; to gain experience and preliminary data from new sequencing technologies for use in future grant applications; and to understand the relationship between genome micro-structure and cancer susceptibility in the context of an hereditary cancer syndrome with variability in cancer recurrence risk."
Dr. Laukaitis attended medical school at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign. She completed a doctorate in Cell and Structural Biology at the University of Illinois and an internal medicine residency at St. Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis. She completed a fellowship in medical genetics at the University of Washington before becoming an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona in 2008.
"Dr. Laukaitis brings to the Arizona Cancer Center and the Department of Medicine a spectacular training background in cell and structural biology, internal medicine and medical genetics applied to people at increased risk of breast and colorectal cancers," said Arizona Cancer Center Director David S. Alberts, MD. "She truly is one-of-a-kind in Arizona and her research objectives strongly complement those of Dr. Setsuko Chambers and Dr. Joanne Jeter and our genetic counselors who have built an outstanding High-Risk Cancer Genetics Clinic for our patients and their families."