Oxford Radcliffe Biobank (ORB) Collections Governance Manager
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR ROLE
I am the manager of a research tissue bank, which is basically like a library for human tissue that researchers can go through to access various forms of human material for their research without having to apply for their own ethics. These might be basic or translational research projects or clinical trials that are recruiting locally or externally. Our direct team is made up of several administrative roles to log projects and activities, biobankers who do the patient contact aspects and specimen retrievals, technicians that do more specific tissue handling such as cutting sections and immunohistochemistry.
I am responsible for considering governance aspects of all of ORB’s activities, which includes ensuring projects under ORB ethics comply with the ethical protocol, that the biobank holdings comply with all the legal requirements of the Human Tissue Act (in particular that appropriate consent from patients / participants is in place, that we can trace every sample to a consent, that we aim to maintain financial stability to keep our services going for the University and the OUH Trust in premises that are fit for purpose). I provide regular scientific input into projects, occasionally technical expertise where I have it, or I put researchers in touch with colleagues who have specialist knowledge.
Before joining ORB, I was a post-doc working on Gene Therapy for 13 years and in the last couple of years I was involved in developing assays and applying them to samples from a clinical trial for cystic fibrosis. I really wanted to stay in the field of clinical trials, but was struggling with making the transition from quite a long period in a research lab (too senior), to clinical trial management (not experienced enough for similar seniority posts, overqualified for lower grade positions). The position of Operations and Quality Manager at the biobank came up at just the right time, using some of the skills I’d acquired while working to Good Clinical Practice standards for the CF trial. My role has since developed to encompass the scientific and ethical advisor and eventually manager roles. I also have line management duties now, which I didn’t have when I started in ORB six years ago.
Working on over 200 projects from across the Medical Sciences Division, my role allows me to contribute to a huge variety of projects in the medical sciences field and to meet people from all kinds of specialties (transplant specialists, surgeons, researchers working on fertility, many different types of cancers, anaemia, respiratory conditions, to name but a few).
WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
One of the things I like the most about this job is that my specialist knowledge of ethics as well as scientific fields (combined with the skills and manpower of my colleagues) can support a huge range of projects which can have an impact on clinical care, even if that can take a number of years. Researchers often simply don’t have the time to gain that knowledge to set up their projects independently or the manpower to deal with all aspects of working with human tissue in a compliant manner.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOMETHING YOU'VE DONE, CONTRIBUTED TO THAT YOU'RE MOST PROUD OF?
At the start of the COVID pandemic, I worked with researchers (mostly clinician researchers) who needed efficient access to all kinds of samples using pathways that had be set up from scratch sometimes in other hospitals, to develop an amended protocol and consent documentation that was successfully reviewed by the research ethics committee, so that they could obtain samples in their respective fields and evaluate the impact of COVID in cohorts from their disease of interest. At a time when those researchers were typically also being pushed to the limit with the clinical work they still had to perform, this was a perfect example of why research tissue banks are critical in a busy university / teaching hospital organisation.
WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO SEE IN THE MEDICAL SCIENCES IN THE NEXT 100 YEARS?
1) I would like women in science (and everywhere) to be treated with more respect; I really feel there is a lack of recognition sometimes that seems based mostly on gender and this really does get in the way of progress, of asking the right questions.
2) I think personalised medicine will become more and more commonplace, but ways of making this affordable for everyone need to found: it may mean backtracking from truly personalised treatments to therapies that are a very good fit for a group of people based on a panoply of parameters
3) I really hope that in the next 100 years we will have pretty much conquered cancer (when I was doing my PhD, I actually thought I might single-handedly find a therapy that would apply to all solid tumours… seeing the amount of effort that still goes into every type of cancer research and the continued need for more new treatments, I was definitely very naïve, but it spurred me on at the time). Better methods for detecting cancer early will probably be a crucial part of achieving significant progress in this area.