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Tales from the Tissue Bank

Interview with Wayne Burrill

Wayne is the manager of Ethical Tissue, the Human Tissue Bank based at the University of Bradford.

Wayne has previously worked for two pharmaceutical research companies developing cell based assays to investigate antibiotic resistance and diseases of the skin and drugs to reduce scarring, improve wound healing and enhance tissue regeneration.

In this interview, Wayne talks about the impact of Covid19 on the workings of the biobank.

Wayne Burrill, Senior Scientist at the University of Bradford

Wayne Burrill, Senior Scientist and Manager of Ethical Tissue

How long has Ethical Tissue been going?

Ethical Tissue (ET) became the first university based Human Tissue Bank with ethical research status in 2007. Unlike other licensed research tissue banks, ET was established to source and supply a broad range of normal and diseased tissues to researchers throughout the UK and beyond, whether in academia or industry.

Describe the range of work that is undertaken by ET

All researchers who successfully apply for samples through Ethical Tissue are not required to have individual project based ethical approval from NRES. ET then sources, stores and issues anonymised samples and data to the researcher. We work collaboratively with the researchers and can process the tissue samples according to their requirements for example as frozen or fresh tissue, isolated cells or blood products such as plasma and serum. In addition our research nurse Joanne is able to deal with all matters concerning patient recruitment and consent in addition to being a trained phlebotomist. In essence ET is here to relieve researchers of the difficulty of collecting ethically sourced human tissue samples.

Can you describe a specific project that was particularly memorable?

To be honest it would be difficult to select one particular project. It has been a privilege to have collaborated with a number of clinicians and surgeons in the past and to see the work they carry out.  One example would be when  collaborated with Prof Jim McCaul (Head and Neck Cancer Specialist) when he was based at Bradford Royal Infirmary in building up a bank of cancer tissue.  When you see the meticulous work carried out by Prof McCaul’s team and the difference he makes to many patients lives then it empowers us to obtain these valuable samples for use in research projects which may help in the future.

How has ET coped in 2020 during the pandemic?

Admittedly, as with many biobanks the pandemic has made many aspects of our day to day difficult.  However we try and remain adaptable and provide our usual service wherever possible.

What have been the main challenges?

I think the major obstacle at the moment is the difficulty in obtaining tissue samples from the procedures which we were previously collecting from. A number of our projects which we help support require skin samples from elective surgery which have been cancelled along with many clinical appointments from which we consent patients prior to surgery or obtain blood samples.

Have you managed to help some researchers during this time?

Yes, we have managed to supply some research groups with frozen samples such as frozen skin samples which are being used to examine transdermal drug delivery. We have also been in close contact with the Care75+ team to arrange shipment of serum and plasma samples to a researcher to look at gaining biological insights and biomarkers in healthy, multimorbid, and frail elders.

Have any new opportunities emerged?

Yes, we are now starting to see an increase in enquiries from researchers as to whether we can potentially supply samples in 2021. There is also a research interest in obtaining samples from patients who are suffering with “long COVID” symptoms and this will be an area to explore.

What are you plans for 2021?

We hope to be able to resume at least some of our normal service within the first quarter of 2021 since the development of vaccines to COVID-19. In addition we will be pushing our marketing of the tissue bank to make ourselves more visible to the research community.