Bringing Human Tissues to Researchers


It is my belief that researchers' lack of access to a reliable and ethical source of human tissue has inhibited a great deal of valuable research. At the UK Human Tissue Bank ( UKHTB), we dedicate ourselves to the exciting challenge of finding the best practices to provide human tissue for biomedical research. I have been involved with the UKHTB since its inception in January 1999, after being appointed as Senior Lecturer within the School of Pharmacy at De Montfort University. Within 18 months, I had taken on the role of deputy director at UKHTB and became the new director in May 2001 when the post became vacant.

To run a human tissue bank, you need to keep a range of parallel activities going. Our main role is to process human tissue donations in our lab. We are constantly striving to optimise the processing, maintenance, and storage of human tissues and derived products through a dedicated programme of in-house research. But to do all this, of course, we need to acquire human tissues, so to facilitate donations our procurement manager, Jacki Trafford, and I approach clinicians and explain the value of human tissues in research. Then we need to publicize the role of the bank within the biomedical research community so that they know tissues may be available. We also need to record the information relating to each donation using a customised database to ensure the traceability of each human tissue, which is critical to the smooth running of our operation.

My role is to manage the seven other members of the UKHTB team and take part in the clinical and research liaison activities. I thus spend considerable amounts of my time interacting with the clinical community to obtain tissues; with scientists and the pharmaceutical industry to offer them the processed tissues; and with senior managers within the university to keep them aware of what we are doing and check that our operation is in line with university protocols.

All researchers seeking a source of human tissue from UKHTB must provide evidence of ethical approval from the National Health Service (NHS) Local Research in line with Department of Health Research Governance and must enter into a legal agreement with UKHTB. Therefore, part of my role, in collaboration with Jacki, is to assist new researchers with this application and act as a liaison with the different committees. Another of my responsibilities is to ensure that the bank runs in a financially robust manner. We do not have direct funding and operate on a cost-recovery basis in which the fees researchers pay for the tissues and organs cover the running costs of our organisation without making a profit.

The majority of my time is office based now and I do not work in the laboratory any more, other than to offer guidance on unusual donations or techniques at UKHTB or offer advice to biomedical researchers on how to best utilise human tissue donations. Nonetheless, I manage to stay connected with research through the supervision of an MD project and overseeing a validation study at UKHTB.

What I especially like about working for UKHTB is that it offers a new challenge and is pioneering in an area that has the potential to benefit human health through the enhanced development of new drugs and diagnostic tools. I really enjoy my job, especially telling people more about what we do at the bank during conferences and workshops. My job gets very busy though and I think it is often easy not to stand back and think about where the organisation should be going. I find it very helpful to bounce ideas off colleagues and external collaborators. Making time to escape from the office and brainstorm new ideas and opportunities is also important, even though delegation can be difficult when the rest of the team are also very busy.

I feel my background and research experience have prepared me well for my director's role at UKHTB. I am a pharmacist by training and initially worked in R&D in the pharmaceutical industry while maintaining my skills in community pharmacy through regular locums (acting as a temporary substitute). I then did a PhD on the evaluation of novel anticancer drugs at the Cancer Research Laboratories at the University of Nottingham to further my career in industry. I pursued my interest in cancer research at the University of Leicester with the investigation of the role of soya derivatives in preventing certain types of cancer. A lectureship then gave me the opportunity to combine my research with teaching pharmacy undergraduates and promoting chemoprevention to the public. This role eventually proved to have too many elements for me to concentrate on one area in sufficient detail, so I was delighted when the job at the UKHTB came up.

My training as a pharmacist gave me a good general knowledge of many different areas of research and helps me keep the needs of a patient firmly in my mind. Through my research, I also gained a good appreciation of how the pharmaceutical industry works, in addition to the workings of academia and the clinical community. Then, my experience in community pharmacy trained me to keep a careful watch on finances, although I can rely on the considerable expertise offered by both the university and external advisors. I think another real bonus for a job like mine is to be a good communicator, and being able to interact with people at all levels has facilitated my progression so far.

The UKHTB is increasingly being recognised as a producer of good-quality information about human tissues and how to best process and utilise them. I would like to see the UKHTB become a centre of excellence for human tissue research in addition to providing human tissues of the highest quality. I do find it frustrating that we cannot do more of our own research. We really need more people to do this as the nature of human donations means it is very difficult to plan experiments. We do not always know when tissue is coming, and therefore we sometimes do not have enough people to undertake extensive further study in addition to making tissue available for external researchers. It is also my plan that the UKHTB will operate with satellite centres across the UK. This will ensure that human tissue is always being utilised at its optimum--as close as possible to its time of removal from the body.

As for being a pharmacist, I have the reassurance that whatever happens in my current role I have a profession to fall back on. But I have a feeling that the future is going to be an exciting one!

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