Early in my training, I met a patient in her 20s who was pregnant and had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). She mentioned a family history of the disease, and as I dug deeper, it turned out that there were about a dozen people in her family who had had AML or similar diseases. Many of them had died very early in adulthood, which had devasting consequences on the family, both emotionally and economically. At the time, not a lot was known about the genetics of blood-related cancers like leukemia. The technology that would allow us to study it was just taking off. It was a problem I wanted to try and solve, because leukemia is such a life-altering diagnosis. I started this work in 1992 and continue it to this day. My lab, in collaboration with others in Seattle and around the world, has helped identify many of the genes that put people at higher risk for these types of cancers.
When people get cancer, it’s common to ask, “Why me?” In most situations, we don’t have a good answer to that question, because the majority of cancers are not inherited. But for many cancers, including blood cancers, there are a small subset of people who pass down a gene — or several genes — from one generation to the next, which increases their risk of developing these diseases. It can feel very unlucky to find out that you have an inherited cancer or that you may be at higher risk for it. Yet this knowledge can help us design a screening, prevention and treatment plan tailored specifically for you. It’s rewarding to learn about my patients’ lives and help them and their families unravel complex medical problems through genetic testing.
Area of clinical practice
High risk prevention
Cancer genetics, hereditary blood cancers
I am a physician-scientist who is board-certified in internal medicine and genetic medicine, a specialty that involves the diagnosis and management of hereditary disorders. For several years, my focus has been on cancer genetics. I work with patients to help them understand the inherited origins of their disease and to develop a personalized approach to prevention and treatment. At Fred Hutch, I am an attending physician in the Hematologic Malignancy Genetics Clinic, which provides risk assessment and follow-up care for people who have hereditary blood cancers or who have a family history of these diseases. I also provide care at the Genetic Medicine Clinic at UW Medical Center - Montlake and direct the UW School of Medicine Medical Scientist Training Program.
Similar to my clinical work, my research is also focused on hematological malignancies. I lead a lab at the UW Institute for Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine that studies the genes and biological pathways that lead to these cancers.
Genetic Predisposition and Susceptibilities
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