Announcing our inaugural Genetics Genius winners

Earlier this year, more than 125 genetic counselors around the world tested their knowledge about hereditary cancer genes through the Invitae Genetics Genius program. Congratulations to everyone who took part! The quizzes weren’t easy, but we hope they encouraged participants to continue paying close attention in this ever-evolving field.

Special congratulations go to our top three winners, Kathleen Buckley, Jessica Stoll, and Jessica Gu. All three have earned both bragging rights and a donation to the cancer charity of their choice. Learn more about these genetics geniuses in the Q&As below! And if you loved the program, stay tuned for Genetics Genius Round 2, coming soon.

Kathleen BuckleyFirst Place: Kathleen Buckley, Grand River Hospital

Kathleen, a genetic counselor, launched a comprehensive hereditary cancer risk assessment program over 10 years ago at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Her passion for solving puzzles and recognizing patterns led her to the University of British Columbia genetic counseling program.

Invitae: Why did you participate in the Genetics Genius program?

Kathleen: I’m a bit of a nerd.  I just thought that writing the quizzes would be easy and it would be fun to see how fast I could complete them.  The first was a lot more difficult than I expected, a humbling eye-opener that reminded me of how fast our field changes, especially with the introduction of the next-gen panels.  Then it became a personal challenge to update myself on some of the more-recently described genes associated with cancer predisposition.  Hopefully this will translate into providing better care and guidance to patients seeking to be proactive about their family history.

Invitae: What charity would you like to donate to?

Kathleen: Willow Breast and Hereditary Cancer Support Center.  I wanted to select a charity that directly benefits members of my local community (Canada) who are at risk for hereditary cancer.  There are only so many genetic counselors to go around. Our families need services where they can connect with someone who can provide accurate, up-to-date information, and the opportunity to connect with others who are or have been through the same experiences.  We know that there are many at-risk families who simply don’t know that hereditary cancer exists, or how to get assessed, so agents to help raise awareness on a larger scale are also essential.  As we learn more about genes other than BRCA1/2, the clinical overlap between the many hereditary cancer syndromes becomes more apparent.  Raising awareness about HBOC, and the idea that cancer can be hereditary but can also be prevented or detected earlier for better long-term survival, will hopefully create a starting block for awareness about other hereditary cancer syndromes.


Jessica StollSecond Place: Jessica Stoll, MS, CGC, University of Chicago Medicine

Jessica is a board-certified genetic counselor and assistant director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic at the University of Chicago Medicine. Genetic counseling was the perfect opportunity to combine her love of genetics as a science and her ambition to work with patients in a clinical setting. Jessica received her Master’s degree in genetic counseling from Northwestern University. Her clinical and research interests include hereditary gastrointestinal cancer susceptibility syndromes, hereditary pancreatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Invitae: Why did you participate in the Genetics Genius program?

Jessica: The Genetics Genius program was a great way to test my knowledge of the rare cancer syndromes that we are starting to encounter more and more in clinic.  It introduced me not only to newer genes that I had not yet heard of, but also updated me about the phenotypic spectrum of some of the lesser known syndromes.

Invitae: What charity have you chosen?

Jessica: The Hereditary Colon Cancer Foundation. The HCCF has been a wonderful resource to my patients in our Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic. We have worked closely with them to provide support and educational outreach to the hereditary colon cancer community in the Chicagoland area, and they continue to impress me with their dedication to providing patients with information about their rare conditions, screening recommendations, and expert care facilities as well as their goal of promoting education for providers handling these patients’ care.


Jessica GuThird Place: Jessica Gu, MS CGC, University Health Network

Jessica is an adult genetic counselor in Toronto, Canada. She received her Master’s degree in genetic counseling at Northwestern University. After graduating, she worked as a pediatric genetic counselor in Chicago for two years before returning home to Toronto. Through genetic counseling, Jessica is able to pursue her love for genetics while providing a needed service to individuals and families affected by or at risk for genetic conditions. She says that she’s motivated by each patient and family’s story and by the constant discovery of new genes and test technologies—something that keeps all genetic counselors on their toes and working as a close-knit community.

Invitae: Why did you participate in the Genetics Genius program?

Jessica: I decided to participate in the Genetics Genius program because I thought it would be a great way to challenge myself and learn about new hereditary cancer genes as I transitioned from pediatric to adult genetics.  At first, most of my patients were hereditary breast and colon cancer patients.  I have since moved to seeing patients with rarer hereditary cancer syndromes, and I find my new knowledge—both of the genes included in the program and of how to find information on those genes—very applicable!

Invitae: What charity would you like to donate to?

Jessica: The Terry Fox Foundation. Terry Fox is one of Canada’s heroes.  He represents hope and integrity.  After having his right leg amputated above the knee following a diagnosis of osteogenic sarcoma at age 18, Fox decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research, and called this run the Marathon of Hope.  Although he was forced to end his run early after 5373 kilometers (3339 miles) when the cancer metastasized to his lungs, Fox managed to raise over $24 million before his death in 1981.  The Terry Fox Run is now an open annual event, and Terry Fox’s legacy continues to this day.  The Terry Fox Foundation has a single mission: to fund innovative cancer research, and has raised close to $700 million to date. I learned about Terry Fox when I was growing up in Toronto. I chose his Foundation because he is an inspiration to individuals and families across the country who have been affected by cancer, including those that I meet.

Stay tuned for registration information for Genetics Genius round 2!