Remembering Dr. Catherine Leetola (Ph.D.’15)

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We are sad to report that alumna Catherine Leetola passed away at the age of 34 on December 28, 2018, after a courageous two-year cancer battle.

Catherine was born January 11, 1984, in Castro Valley, California to Thomas and Mary (Coble) Leettola. Her life-long love of science lead her to UC San Diego where she majored in biochemistry and cell biology, graduating in 2006 summa cum laude with a perfect 4.0 GPA. It was in college that she met her loving husband, Anthony Adamucci.   

After working in lab research settings for two years, Catherine moved to UCLA’s Ph.D. doctoral program in biochemistry.  At UCLA she continued her stellar academic and research performance and was awarded a Cellular and Molecular Biology Training Grant. She performed her Ph.D. work in Professor Jim Bowie’s lab studying a network of proteins involved in cystic kidney diseases and received her Ph.D. in biochemistry in 2015. 

Jim says of Catherine, “She was one of the most talented students I’ve encountered. She did everything well with a genuine enthusiasm that was a pleasure to be around. She elevated my lab in so many ways and I feel lucky to have known her.”    

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Catherine at the UCLA hooding ceremony in 2015 with her Ph.D. advisor Professor Jim Bowie.

Her post-doctoral education took her to Philadelphia in 2015 where she worked on antibody research for Janssen Pharmaceuticals. In early 2017, Catherine was faced with her toughest test yet. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and then, four weeks later, a breast cancer diagnosis was added to her plate. Despite the grim diagnosis, Catherine continued to smile and enjoy her favorite activities such as cooking, fly-fishing, hiking, and embarking on adventures with her brother and husband. She threw out the honorary first pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies and was named their honorary batgirl to promote cancer awareness. Even with all the big adventures, Catherine loved to just chat and socialize with her friends and family.  

Catherine touched many lives. All family and friends are invited to her celebration party at Normandy Farms in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, on January 12, 2019, from 12 to 3 pm for light food, drinks, and remembrances. The party will be casual just as Catherine wished.  A second party will be held later in the spring at Anthony’s parents’ home in wine country Temecula, California, on the west coast. The date for that party is still to be determined. Please contact Prof. Jim Bowie,, to be notified when details about the party are available.

In lieu of flowers, friends and colleagues can send donations to Catherine’s favorite charities, Unite for HER and American Cancer Society. Please make sure to include Catherine’s name on your Unite for HER donation, as they will be earmarked to help woman with ovarian cancer in their brand new pilot program.  

Article by Penny Jennings/UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Photos by Grad Images.