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Informing research through an insider perspective at the UK’s largest human tissue bank – Fiona Walker

Date published: 15/02/18


Informing research through an insider perspective at the UK’s largest human tissue bank – Fiona Walker

  • Name: Mrs Fiona Walker
  • Current Organisation: Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering – Faculty of Biological Sciences – University of Leeds
  • Current Position: Senior Research Technician
  • Secondment organisation: NHS Blood and Transplant, Tissue and Eye Services

My name is Fiona Walker and as a senior research technician at the University of Leeds, I support the research and development of novel biological scaffolds. These scaffolds, produced from animal and human tissues, offer a non-immunogenic and cell-free scaffold to aid in the repair of diseased or damaged tissue for patients. They have the capacity to overcome the limitations associated traditional transplant grafts.

Tissue handling – practical skills

I applied for a secondment with NHS Blood and Transplant, Tissue and Eye Services primarily to develop new insight, knowledge and practical skills relating to the coordination, retrieval, processing and banking of human tissue grafts. NHSBT is the largest UK tissue bank which operates nationally, making it the ideal place to learn about tissue handling and storage within purpose built, state of the art facilities.

Progressing key technologies

I am currently developing a novel manufacturing process for a cartilage osteochondral scaffold, which will be applied to human tissues in the future. The secondment will allow me to consider how processes that I am currently developing within the research laboratory can be implemented in the clinical production setting in the future. The long term would be to support translation so that biological scaffolds under development can reach patients in the clinic sooner. I will also benefit from expert advice on working with human tissues within Human Tissue Authority guidelines.

Access to unique laboratories and facilities

In addition, I will have the opportunity to gain knowledge of how new and emerging projects in tissue engineering are managed and progressed from within the R&D department and experience what it is like to work with tissues within an operating theatre standard environment, clean rooms and a regulated environment that is different to my research laboratory.

What I hope to gain

Aside from gaining practical knowledge relating to my research projects, I will benefit from observing a range of different roles that are integral to the organisation which are outside the laboratory. The secondment will provide a unique privilege to shadow different teams ranging from the donor consent team to customer services so that I will gain an understanding about the entire process of human tissue donation and banking. I anticipate that this will offer an interesting and humbling inside perspective on a topic that is familiar to many and that will be very valuable for my personal development.