I’m on a mission to transform early disease detection and diagnosis in animals through pioneering testing technology using AI algorithms and newly discovered biomarkers. My company – MI:RNA Diagnostics – was set up to help my industry make advances in detecting major illnesses earlier, when treatment is most effective.
We recently claimed a major accomplishment – creating a test with almost double the sensitivity compared to standard industry testing in detecting Johne’s disease in cattle, a wasting illness that costs the UK’s agriculture sector millions every year. In the past 18 months, we have also produced groundbreaking tests for identifying heart disease markers in cats and dogs, which could extend their lives by up to nearly two years through earlier medical intervention.
I have a 15-year track record of technical and commercial expertise, which led me to establishing MI:RNA Diagnostics in 2019, as part of a spinout process from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).
With over 12 years in veterinary practice, I’ve always had a passion for science and I completed a postgraduate certificate in medicine and a PHD in Immunology, working for the university sector as a clinical pathologist; I’ve recently begun studying for an MBA to further hone my skills.
MI:RNA is proudly female-led, and a passionately gender-balanced team of world leading experts, and me and my team have set our sights firmly on the global market.
We have focused on growing with the right people and culture. That means the research and development programme has been crafted by a select group of experts from across the globe. From the senior management team to all the staff and strategy advisors, the group has come together to create a dream team covering IP, commerce, AI, science, finance, and operations.
I’m completely enchanted by this new field of science that presents a very elegant solution to an age-old problem in diagnostics. It’s comparatively easy to diagnose later stages of disease as there are often a raft of signs and symptoms along with changes in the levels of protein in response to tissues being damaged. But the utopia of disease detection is in the early stages where typically treatments are most effective and recovery most likely. Combining AI algorithms with our newly discovered biomarkers, has led to a revolution in diagnostics.
Encouraging more women in STEM careers
With just 26 per cent of women in STEM careers, I’m a CEO in a very male-dominated industry. I have firsthand experience with the obstacles many women leaders encounter: from fundraising struggles to combating unconscious gender biases, I’ve had to push past many barriers on my journey. However, I believe the changing tides are making it easier for more women to advance into leadership roles.
And my strategy? I persevere through challenges by emphasising proven expertise, skills and passion for innovation. That means building a diverse team with complementary strengths to drive things forward, as well as fostering an equitable, understanding culture allowing everyone to thrive.
In terms of advice for young women pursuing STEM or leadership roles, I would say don’t be deterred by the barriers or naysayers you’ll inevitably face. Always trust your abilities and vision – with dedicated focus and teamwork you can achieve great things.
Saving lives through earlier medical intervention
At its core, MI:RNA’s technology aims to save and improve lives through earlier disease detection and intervention. Heart disease currently kills hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs prematurely each year. By identifying it months or even years before the onset of symptoms, the company’s blood tests are helping veterinarians to proactively treat pets and add meaningful time to their lives.
The company’s NEMO Cardiac Health Screening test analyses microRNAs – newly discovered biomarkers involved in disease progression and resolution. When combined with AI, this approach significantly improves early identification of complex conditions like heart disease giving pets the chance to access the best care more quickly.
Similarly, the company has championed an AI-empowered testing method in identifying Johne’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition that impacts the health, welfare and productivity of cattle and other livestock.
This method has the potential to detect early stages of infection and predict the outcome of the disease, significantly building on existing testing methods used in the agricultural sector. This diagnostic testing innovation will allow veterinarians, farmers and equine owners to easily test for a variety of conditions including heart and kidney disease, osteoarthritis and bovine tuberculosis, along with effective general wellness and preoperative screening.
The implications for human health are equally exciting. Early detection of illnesses like cancer, diabetes, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases increases treatment efficacy drastically. We envision our biomarker technology will help doctors diagnose human patients much earlier – leading to dramatically improved prognosis and survival rates.
Pioneering the future of diagnostics
As MI:RNA continues revolutionising diagnostics, I firmly believes Scotland’s thriving biotech ecosystem will propel it forward. The talent, science and entrepreneurial drive found in our universities and innovation centres fosters an ideal environment for progress.
And I will continue to advocate for more female voices within that ecosystem while breaking ground with my team. My vision is for our life-saving early detection technology to become the norm across veterinary and human medicine. By unlocking diagnostics’ full potential globally, I hope we can significantly improve patient outcomes through earlier intervention in fighting illness.