ANNA PILBROW

ANNA PILBROW |  Senior Research Fellow, Christchurch Heart Institute, University of Otago | Ōtautahi / Christchurch

Q. How did you get into coding? What is your advice for girls and omg children who want to be coders?

I got into coding through my current role as a biomedical researcher. I studied biochemistry at Lincoln and Otago Universities and completed a PhD at the University of Otago, Christchurch in 2006. My current research investigates why heart disease runs in families. Coding allows me to analyse large genetic and clinical datasets to see whether we can use DNA to help guide treatment and improve survival in patients with heart disease. The most useful things for me when I started to code was learning how to search for help online, and to do some coding every day!

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Q. Tell us about a rad piece of code that you’ve written? What are you most proud of?

We recently wrote some code that is allowing us to figure out how our DNA influences the way genes are turned on and off in the heart. Specifically, we are looking at how 200,000 possible DNA variations alter how 20,000 genes are switched on or off. This is helping us understand why heart disease runs in some families and providing us with new ideas on how we might develop drug treatments for patients with heart disease. We are aiming to publish this work next year.

“My dream is to discover what information our DNA can contribute to predicting who is at risk of heart disease”


Q. What big dreams do you have as a coder? What are you aspiring to do next?

My dream is to discover what information our DNA can contribute to predicting who is at risk of heart disease. We are currently planning a large project involving many patients and researchers from around the world to identify the parts of our DNA that contribute to poor clinical outcomes after a heart attack. We’ll use code to combine data from New Zealand patients with data from patients from other countries and then analyse these really large, complex datasets to find the DNA sequence variants involved. 

Coding is a universal language and can lead to working with others from around the world. For this project, I’ll have experienced coders from the University of Auckland and deCODE genetics in Iceland helping me. I’m going to learn heaps of new coding tricks and can’t wait to get started!

Anna uses R, a programming language for statistical computing and graphics that was developed here in New Zealand by Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman in the early 1990’s.

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