Hello! I am Rachel "Konichiwakitty" Wong.

My ethnicity is Chinese and I am Malaysian. I am bilingual - I speak English with my family but it is a requirement to learn the Malay language throughout education in Malaysia. I am able to understand spoken mandarin and cantonese. I love the Japanese culture (and food!) and Hello Kitty. I hope that explains how my branding came about!

I am PhD student studying Usher Syndrome using stem cells by growing 3D optic vesicles which constitutes the many layers of an eye. This is the most advance method to study blindness non-invasively. As a student at the Great Ormond St Hospital, my patients are mostly children who have inherited a genetic defect which ultimately leads to loss of sight. The same genetic defect also causes loss of hearing with impaired balance functions. The ideal outcome from this research is to understand which layer of the eye is affected by this genetic defect, and restore the function so that the patient can regain sight. Currently, patients are able to have hearing restored with the help of technology; cochlear implants.

I have successfully maximised all my time in gaining as much research exposure as possible to secure the scholarship I have now. My background is in stem cells and tissue engineering. This includes fundamental research (i.e. dissecting genetic pathways) as well as clinical applications (i.e. organ transplants). For my MRes, Prof Paolo de Coppi pushed my boundaries which led me to work on 3 projects (unlike the regular student who took on 1). They were tissue engineering of the 1) oesophagus (food track connecting mouth to stomach), 2) skeletal muscle (majority of muscle that contributes to movement), and lastly 3) thymus (involves in building the immune system during development and disappears at adolescence).

Tissue engineering involves 3 steps

  • Firstly, establishing a method to obtain the scaffold/exoskeleton of an organ by stripping it of its DNA and cells. This scaffold provides a structure for new cells to cling on and build a home and does not need to come from a fresh organ. 
  • Secondly, the patient that requires the new organ would have to provide cell samples so that the patient's cells will grow and reconstitute the scaffolding to create a personalised organ suited to the patient. To do this, we obtain a simple skin biopsy. The skin cells are reprogrammed into immature pluripotent stem cells (baby cells). These pluripotent stem cells are then allowed to mature towards a specific lineage (usually related to the organ required for transplant). 
  • The third step to completing a tissue-engineered organ is the seeding of cells and the complete reconstitution of the scaffold. Unfortunately, at the moment the whole process can take a long time and therefore there can still be a long wait before a transplant is carried out. The final product is a brand new organ that should circumvent the need for organ donors or immunosuppressants and obstacles such as organ rejection.

Previous research work involved studying the effect of anaesthesia in comparison with natural sleep on mouse brains and obtaining haematopoietic stem cells (blood cells) to study leukaemia.

I was offered a scholarship with GlaxoSmithKlein in collaboration with The Crick Institute and had started training for the project at the National Institute of Medical Research under Prof De Coppi's and Dr Vivian Li's guidance but had to turn down the offer due to my citizenship status. I do hope to collaborate with them in the future as I am certain that this is where my true passion is - in tissue engineering which is reflected in my shiny distinction and dean's list *cheeky boast*.

(Confession: I have been a major workaholic most years. I was careless with my mental health and that led to big struggles! Please always make sure to listen to your body and look after your needs!)

I started dipping into the maker/electronics/programming community from my first event which was the Raspberry Pi 5th Birthday party in March. (I must admit that event really set the bar high for all future Pi events as I received a really nice Pi 3 Pibow case and I was hoping for a nice goody bag for every event there after - I learnt quickly this was not the case!)

I've always had an interest in hair accessories and jewellery (I own a lot of unique hair accessories!). During my sabbatical, I spent a lot of time dipping into various crafts and recreation in search for something I would enjoy doing for a longer term that I could maintain as a lifestyle. I tried paper crafts, drawing, painting, and I spent a huge deal of my time reading about mindfulness. In the end, I settled with making hair accessories like mermaid crowns which I ended up selling on Etsy: Konichiwakittyshop.

When I was tinkering with programming and electronics, it seemed to make sense to combine it with my hair accessories. So, wearables were born! Since then, I have been making pieces that I LOVE which only adds to my growing collection of unique headpieces.

Fast forward to Nov 2017, I am so proud of how I've managed to maintain a life of balance between work and play. My creations has only inspired me further to learn new things. In September, I started using my sewing machine and sew myself a patent pink skirt. Honestly, I just winged it and it turned out way better than I had anticipated! So, from there I was a little bit more adventurous in combining clothing with electronics/hardware.

I have exhibited at the Mozilla Festival 2017 and Derby Mini Maker Faire 2017, and have learnt so much from these experiences. I found that I have the opportunity to inspire young children, especially girls to pursue a career in STEM. This started when a little girl told her mum she really liked what I was wearing and asked if I was a beauty blogger. I said, "I'm a scientist! And you can still love fashion, beauty or have any other interests while pursuing a completely different career!". That set a spark in me - I now have to go save the world, one workshop at a time, bye!

In January 2016, I had to stop my PhD due to severe depression, anxiety and exhaustion. I was going through a rough phase where I was burnt out and eventually had bad insomnia. I was eventually taken to Nightingale Hospital where I was given anti-anxiety where I slept for 3 days continuously. I spent 4 weeks at the hospital with intensive 9 to 5 therapy on weekdays and fewer hours on weekends. This experience changed my life. A year later, I resumed my PhD and eased my way back into work. It is almost 2 years since I was first diagnosed, I am still seeing my therapist although less frequently and am starting to be weaned off my medication due to being stable for more than a year. Everyday, I am only getting stronger with each step I take into building a balanced and mindful life.
(If you're in the UK or ROI and you feel you need someone to speak to at any time or someone to listen, please do not hesitate to call The Samaritans at 116 123)

Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions below or would like to discuss more about any of the highlighted topics above. Otherwise, find me on twitter @konichiwakitty where you would most probably receive a rapid response!

Instagram @konichiwakitty