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Chris undertook his honours and his PhD research in the Cancer Genetics group. He then worked as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Cancer Genetics group before moving to the Mackenzie research group to work with A/Prof Logan Walker to focus on breast cancer research.

An interview with Chris during his PhD research

Familial diffuse gastric cancer

Chris Hakkaart achieved first class honours in genetics in 2012, and in 2013 commenced his PhD study to find a new causative gene for familial diffuse gastric cancer.

Chris is looking at families who don’t have the mutated tumour suppressor gene CDH1. Over 10 families have already volunteered to assist Chris in his work, and more are expected to do so.

Blood samples have been sequenced and he’s looking at where mutations are, what they are and what they do. He’s working through thousands of mutations trying to find about 10 that might be promising.

He likes solving problems, and finding out new things, but you have to be patient. Lots of planning, and effort are required, and discipline, and accuracy.

“I find it really rewarding looking for the genes which will help guide families struggling with gastric cancer.”

Pathway into science

Chris was aware of the impact of cancer at a young age. His younger sister is a leukaemia survivor.

At secondary school he hated biology until his final year. His teacher encouraged him with extended work, and infused him with his own passion for genetics and learning.  He says genetics is something he fell into, he followed what he enjoyed, and ended up here at the Cancer Genetics Lab.

“If I hadn’t had that teacher, I probably wouldn’t be here, I’d be doing something else.”

Chris interests weren’t just in science, and he still enjoys graphics and art today.

Chris was raised in South Otago, and did his undergraduate study at the University of Otago. At this stage he would like to continue his research career in cancer.