PhD student profiles


Katie Oliver
Joined the Wellcome Trust 4-year Interdisciplinary PhD Programme in Autumn 2011 with funding from the MRC

Project title
Infrared spectroscopy as a clinical diagnostic method for detection of disease states: developments and applications in kidney diseases and cancer diagnoses

Principle investigator: Professor Peter Rich, ISMB, UCL
Co-investigator: Professor Robert Unwin, UCL


I graduated in Biochemistry at the University of Warwick in 2011. During this time I spent two months working at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm as part of the Amgen Scholars programme where I was investigating the altered immune system response in Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome patients. For my final year research project at Warwick I worked on the structural characterisation of α-synuclein, a protein associated with Parkinson's disease. I applied for the ISMB interdisciplinary PhD programme because I had enjoyed working on these research projects and it gave me the opportunity to explore different areas of science.

Rotation projects

Rotation 1: Sept 2011 - January 2012
Refolding of TMH2 precedes TMH1 during pore-formation by MACPF, Pleurotolysin.
Principal investigator: Prof. Helen Saibil
Lukoyanova, N. et al. 2015 PLOS Biol. 13(2): e1002049

Rotation 2: January - April 2012
Precursor-directed biosynthesis of azinomycin analogues using chemically synthesised azidonaphthoic acids.
Principal investigator: Dr. Philip Lowden

Rotation 3: May - July 2012
A computational structure-based function prediction method for characterising hypothetical proteins in Chlamydiae.
Principal investigators: Dr. Irilenia Nobeli and Dr. Richard Hayward.

PhD Project

After completing the rotation projects I decided I was more interested in clinical research with a direct link to patients. I therefore joined Prof. Peter Rich's lab to begin work on developing infrared spectroscopy as a clinical diagnostic tool. I have mainly been looking into fast, simple and accurate methods of diagnosing kidney disease and staging pancreatic cancer.

In collaboration with the Royal Free Hospital, we have developed a fast and inexpensive method for diagnosing kidney stone diseases.

We have also installed a benchtop infrared spectrometer directly in the Royal Free Hospital. This is being operated by nurses who have been generating a large database of patient urine spectra. Analysis of this data has revealed some spectral patterns associated with kidney disease that could be used to develop a quick screening tool for kidney damage.

Another collaboration with Lisbon university (Prof. Graça Soveral) has generated evidence that we can use ATR-FTIR spectroscopy as better, more accurate way of diagnosing and staging pancreatic cancer.




Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, University of London
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