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By Naomi Stekelenburg 8 December 2022 1 min read

Dr Letitia Sng[Link will open in a new window] is an accomplished martial artist and research scientist. Her work on discovering new generic variants responsible for complex diseases like Alzheimer’s disease[Link will open in a new window] really packs a punch.

Letitia has practised the Japanese martial art, aikido, for eight years. Originally a form of de-stressing during her PhD, the strength and flexibility required by aikido is also reflected in Letitia’s work as a scientist.

Mathematics interested Letitia from a young age. She believes it was her "steady hand." Her early dream was to become a veterinarian, but after working in a clinic she decided the profession was not for her.

Fighting genetic diseases is no easy feat, but Letitia is ready for the challenge.

Flexibility is key, Grasshopper

As all good martial artists do, Letitia deftly redirected. She then headed down a path of exploring the genetics of the human brain.

Letitia said taking the leap from animals to humans was not that difficult.

"I focus mainly on the methods – the human side was inconsequential to me. The statistical methods are key," Letitia said.

Letitia’s research helps build pipelines for disease that are species and disease agnostic.

"Building an algorithm for everything – that’s flexible enough to work on everything," she said.

Using machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) approaches, Letitia’s work focusses on building algorithms that can identify the genetic variants responsible for some of the biggest killers of humans around the globe.

These include Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurological disease that affects people’s abilities to control their muscles.

Research that is ninja-like

Letitia's work in statistical modelling may not make headlines. But the groundwork she provides other sciences in combatting disease is vital.

“We are at the forefront of everything genetics at the moment. And all the developments in the health space in the news – they come after our work," she said.

"Without all the work we do in developing algorithms for genetic detection, none of the glamorous work would be able to be done. We light the space for others."

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