Notes from the 7th Tech Sisters’ networking event

22 April 2013



Photo by Katrin Loodus

Our 7th networking event was less entrepreneurial and more academical than usually. Jana Holmartalked about her research at the chair of medical physics at the Tallinn University of Technology andKatrin Loodus shared her journey from thinking of becoming a doctor to her present job at IT College.


Jana Holmar. Photo by Katrin Loodus

Jana Holmar is a doctoral student and research scientist at Tallinn University of Technology’s department of biomedical engineering. Her doctoral thesis’s title is “Optical monitoring of removed uremic toxins during dialysis” and although it may sound rather cryptic, Jana somehow managed to actually explain us what it’s all about. First of all, let us all recall what our kidneys are good for. Their main function is to eliminate waste material and toxins from our blood and to regulate body fluids’ balance. When something goes wrong with them, we might have to face kidney failure, which in turn causes many concurrent health problems. There will be two choices: either a kidney transplant or blood-cleansing treatment called dialysis. For many reasons, dialysis (hemodialysis to be exact) is the more common way to go. Most patients get 3 hemodialysis sessions per week and each session lasts 3-5 hours. During dialysis blood flows through filter and excess fluids and toxins are removed from blood to dialysate.


Hemodialysis machine. Photo by Patrick Glanz

To find out whether something should be changed during the dialysis (i.e. perhaps the session should be shorter or longer), patients’ blood is being tested a couple of times a month. When you consider how frequently patients go through dialysis, you might think the blood should be tested more often than that. But this would take time, resources and it’s not very pleasant for the patient. That’s why Jana and her colleagues have come up with a method to optically monitor the toxins that are removed during the dialysis. Different molecules absorb (and sometimes emit) light at different wavelengths and measuring the signal at these wavelengths makes it possible to find out exactly which toxins have been removed from the blood (this is, of course, very superficial and not totally accurate explanation). This in turn gives information about the quality of the blood. In reality, this means that a small gadget is inserted to the dialysis machine and it’s assigned to measure optical information of spent dialysate and monitor its contents. This method is already used in a couple of hospitals (although not in Estonia) and some for patients this has meant that instead of spending, say, 5 hours for the dialysis, they actually only need 3 hours per session. Or contrariwise, some patients maybe need much longer/frequent procedure for sufficient toxins removal.
Jana’s presentation made us all a bit thoughtful. After all, kidney failure is one very grim subject matter. But maybe we all needed a small reminder that kidneys are worth taken care of. Get some exercise, eat healthy food and avoid consuming too much food and drinks that create uric acid (a final product of the metabolism of purine) during the metabolism (i.e. beer, saturated fats, glucose fructose syrup).


Katrin Loodus. Photo by Mart Mangus

Katrin Loodus has always been driven by the need to help others. At first, she thought becoming a doctor would be the best way for finding expression to this urge. Well, this didn’t happen and Katrin went to IT College instead. But administrating IT systems is kind of like curing computers, so you can say she actually did become a doctor in a way! Anyway, her studies began with failing at a course that taught MS Word. Not a fabulous starting point, but Katrin didn’t even consider giving up at that point. Her first job was to take care of Estonian Business School’s computer class. No one else seemed to fancy keeping an eye on it on Friday and Saturday evenings, but Katrin saw the opportunity to get her homework done during these hours. She continued her career as an IT systems analyst. During the two years she understood that it’s not something for her. So she changed workplaces and continued her journey at the ministry of finance as a sysadmin. There are lots of stereotypes about sysadmins and Katrin certainly didn’t do any of them justice: she was active, sociable and talkative. Although she could help people as she had always dreamed, this job still wasn’t quite right for her. During the time she spent there, she turned into a workaholic, who was unable to tell the difference when her workday ended and free time started. Getting an emergency call in the middle of the night wasn’t anything extraordinary back then. At one point, she had enough of it and quit. Katrin’s next job was at IT College as a guest lecturer. She’s been teaching Linux and storage systems for almost two years now and this seems to be something she really enjoys and is good at.

Since Katrin is such an active person, it’s pretty obvious that working isn’t the only thing she keeps herself busy with. She’s one of the co-founders and board members of Tech Sisters and she’s taken part of Rails Girls first as a learner and then already as an organizer. For 1,5 years, she was the driving force behind Linux User Group (she’s been a Linux enthusiast since she was 15!). Katrin has also been part of IT College’s robotics club. She first went there with her roommate just because there weren’t any girls building robots back then. Katrin’s team was the first all-female team to take part of Robotex. She’s also been part of art projects (exhibition “Kikerikiik”, warm carpet in collaboration with Estonian Academy of Arts’s student etc).

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