Waikato alumna completes Cambridge PhD

25 July 2017

K deLange

University of Waikato alumna and Woolf Fisher Scholarship recipient Katie de Lange celebrates the completion of her PhD at the University of Cambridge, UK.

University of Waikato alumna Katie de Lange celebrated the completion of her PhD at the University of Cambridge on Friday 21 July.

In 2012, Katie was awarded a Woolf Fisher Scholarship, worth around $100,000 a year for up to four years, to study her PhD at Cambridge University. The scholarship recognised her success as a Sir Edmund Hillary sports scholar and the quality of her Bachelor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences honours degree.

Following the completion of a three-month scholarship at Google, Katie jetted off to the UK to study bioinformatics, the study of understanding biological data at Cambridge’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

For the past four years, Katie has been looking into the genetic mutations that can lead to the development of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). IBD is a chronic, debilitating disorder of the gastrointestinal tract that affects about 0.5% of the population.

“Most people probably know at least one person affected by one of the two major forms of IBD, be it Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis,” says Katie. As part of her research, Katie and her team compared the genomes of 25,000 IBD patients and 35,000 healthy controls to identify regions of the genome associated with the development of IBD.

This research may help IBD patients, says Katie. “Looking at these regions of the genome, we were able to resolve the causal biological mechanism underlying some of the disease associations,” she says.
“We have proposed several potential biological targets that may be of use in developing novel therapeutics for the treatment of IBD.”

Having attended Cambridge, Katie says its prestigious image (the university is ranked fifth in the world) and illustrious alumni are no longer so daunting. “It’s a friendly and very enjoyable place to study,” she says. Though she admits she was more focused on the look of the campus than its status, “I hadn’t really thought far past how much the college looked like Hogwarts!”

Like Hogwarts, Katie says her experience at Cambridge was nothing short of magical, especially in her first year. “I lived on campus right in the centre of the historic town. It was amazing walking the same corridors famous scientists did hundreds of years ago.” She says living on campus allowed her to make great friends from different backgrounds and disciplines.

Katie says she misses Waikato. “I miss the great campus and being able to grab sushi with my friends down by the lake.” She says she especially enjoyed the Sir Edmund Hillary Programme at Waikato and notes Wednesday training at the gym with UniRec personal trainer Vonita White as the highlight of her week. Katie recommends Waikato to anyone interested in computing and mathematical sciences. “I liked being in a setting where you could comfortably chat with your lecturer,” she says. “When I recently came back to Waikato to give a presentation on my PhD work, my old lecturers came along and we had great conversations.”

Katie is finishing off a side-project before she leaves Cambridge, then in September she will begin her one-year fellowship at Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Boston where she will further her understanding of converting computational genetics into real-world therapeutic benefits.