TCRN Travel story | Anusha Hettiaratchi - 2017 R2 Professional Development Grant

22 February 2018

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your research?

I am the manager of the UNSW Biorepository, located within the Lowy Cancer Centre, we are part of the Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre. I have over 15 years experience as a bench scientist, I still use skills learnt and refined during this time to now enable research through the services offered by the UNSW Biorepository. I have been in this role since first hired to establish the biorepository in 2010. I have been a member of the ABNA committee since 2017.

As part of my role I help researchers set up collection protocols including help with ethics applications, manages the running of the processing lab and the biobanking database, including working with project managers, hospital staff and hospital management to establish and maintain on-going collections and distributions of biospecimens.  The UNSW Biorepository houses the HSA Biobank which is one of the flagship programs of the TCRN.

Could you tell us about the conference you went to and why you chose to attend this conference?

This year I was on the organising committee for the ABNA conference. As an exercise in organisation this was an eye opener and has certainly given me an appreciation for the work involved with the larger overseas conferences I have attended.

I chose to attend this conference as it is our local biobanking conference. It is also an opportunity to meet face to face with our database provider and go through some enhancements we would like to see developed.

What would be the most important outcomes of the conference for you?

This year, given the changes in NSW Biobanking landscape there was a lot of new information that was conveyed at the conference. It was also an excellent opportunity to ask questions directly to the decision makers who will be putting the new systems in place.

The HSA Biobank, which is housed within the UNSW Biorepository, in conjunction with the Dept of Anatomical Pathology at POWH were one of two sites chosen to pilot the Biobanking Workflow projects with NSW Health. The aim of the project is to obtain data related to the provision of biospecimens and associated data for research purposes from NSW Health entities. NSW Health Pathology and affiliated biobanks are significant contributors of biospecimens for research. However, there is little baseline information available regarding the costs and impact of biobanking activities. This project was set in place to gather data over a 12 month period to obtain baseline information on biobanking workflows. As results from this project will inform the first steps to improve efficiencies at the acquisition, processing and storage stages of biospecimens for biobanking and associated data the ABNA conference was a good opportunity to discuss the set up of this pilot and compare notes with the other successful site at Kolling/RNSH.

Could you tell us about your presentation at the conference?

This year I did not present at the conference, instead I was on the ABNA organising committee. We are a relatively small organisation and the conference had just under 200 delegates. As an exercise in organisation this was an eye opener and has certainly given me a new appreciation into the preparation that goes into one of these events.

Were there any new knowledge or strategies from the conference you found interesting and possibly an interest of other TCRN members?

Knowing that there are biobanking networks that can be accessed by TCRN members for both specimens and/or data is important knowledge to share with the research community. Preventing the duplication of specimen collection and utilising available resources like the HSA Biobank and the UNSW Biorepository is important in driving the research dollar further, and it frees up the researchers time to do research. 

How can your research translate into improvements in patient care and clinical outcomes?

I have been a member of the TCRN since 2011. As the manager of the UNSW Biorepository we house the HSA Biobank collection of specimens. I work closely with the TCRN Biobanking Project Manager to facilitate the collection and distribution of specimens.

You received funding to attend the conference – could you tell us about the difficulties of obtaining funding for these sorts of activities and how the TCRN fills a need?

Currently research funding in general are highly contested, as professional staff the funding opportunities are also further reduced. The TCRN development grants give the opportunity for professional staff to attend educational sessions and conferences.