Former Shepparton woman Kate Lanyon shapes healthier future

By Laura Briggs

From a Shepparton teenager to a founder of a Melbourne-based company aiming to change the future of genetic diseases, Kate Lanyon said it all started with encouragement from her Wanganui Park Secondary College teachers.

While many of the girls in her year level were taking arts and humanities subjects, Ms Lanyon said her skills were in the contrasting subjects of technology, engineering, science and maths.

Unsure of what her career path might be at the time, Ms Lanyon said it was the reassurance from teachers that kept her doing the subjects she loved.

‘‘I really appreciate how good my high school was here,’’ she said.

‘‘The encouragement of all the teachers to stick to all those STEM subjects was what I really needed at the time.’’

Out of high school and down to Melbourne University, Ms Lanyon started an engineering course.

After some time in the course, students were required to study computer programming.

‘‘I fell in love with it. It was like magic being able to create anything you want inside a computer,’’ she said.

From there, Ms Lanyon redirected her career path and went on to complete a bachelor of computer science.

After completing the course, Ms Lanyon was introduced to a world of opportunity.

‘‘One of the great things about being a programmer is there’s so many industries that you get to work with and so many great jobs out there that are really interesting,’’ she said.

Having operated a number of her own businesses, built her own apps and worked for various large companies, Ms Lanyon said her employment experiences had all played a part in allowing her to get to where she was today.

In December, Ms Lanyon co-founded Eugene Labs, a digital genetic and health service empowering people with expert, convenient and compassionate healthcare.

Having formed a team with Kunal Kalro and Zoe Milgrom, the three founders used their individual skill sets to launch an at-home genetic testing service to be accessed by people anywhere, anytime.

The test, known as a carrier screening, is designed for people who were considering starting a family.

Ms Lanyon said the purpose of the test was to recognise specific genetic diseases that could be passed on from the individual to their baby.

‘‘You can be a carrier of a genetic disease and have no symptoms — so what that means is you have one healthy copy of a gene and one faulty copy,’’ she said.

‘‘So, if you and your partner have the same faulty copy, even though you’re both healthy, it means you have a one-in-four chance of having a child that inherits both faulty copies of that gene and is, therefore, sick as a result.’’

She said the test had the potential to change many lives.

‘‘As part of family planning, if you do this test at that stage, there’s a whole lot of options to help you so that you don’t have a child that’s quite sick or faces the risk of dying from these conditions,’’ she said.

Although the screening is a simple process consisting of only a saliva sample, Ms Lanyon said it was able to test for 300 serious conditions.

‘‘Our nearest competitor only tests for three conditions and those conditions are only prevalent in caucasians, so if you’re say Greek or Mediterranean, Beta thalassaemia is a condition that is very common in that population and it’s not tested for in other’s test,’’ she said.

‘‘So we make sure we test for conditions that are prevalent across multiple ethnicities rather than just Caucasian.’’

She said rather than individuals and couples receiving their results to decipher through and interpret, the next step was to have a session with the genetic counsellor.

‘‘They explain to you what your results are, what they mean and what options you have from there,’’ she said.

Ms Lanyon said by working hard to automate as much as possible, they had been able to bring costs down to $479 for individuals and $679 for couples, including the screening and counselling to follow.

She said statistics showed 20 per cent of all infant deaths were due to genetic disorders and it was Eugene Labs’ mission to decrease that number through its service.

Ms Lanyon was thrilled to be able to use her expertise in helping to shape a healthier future for families.

‘‘It’s a really good feeling to be in a job that is so meaningful and can help so many,’’ she said.

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