Not the usual type of bank manager

Caroline Drinkwater is a bank manager – but not in the traditional way.

Caroline Drinkwater is a bank manager – but not in the traditional way. 

Caroline is a Biobank Specialist funded by the Children’s Cancer Foundation as part of the Hudson Monash Paediatric Precision Medicine (HMPPM) Program. 

“A biobank is a place where biological samples are stored so that they can be used for research, now and in the future,” she explains.

“My role as a Biobank Specialist at Hudson Institute of Medical Research involves collecting solid tumour and brain tumour samples from the Monash Children’s Hospital operating theatre, and taking them to be snap frozen and cryopreserved in the Institute’s biobank lab.“A biobank specialist is the go-between the researchers and clinicians to provide excess tumour and blood samples from cancer patients for clinical and translational research.”

Adapting to a new era of research

Since the late 1990s biobanks have become an important resource in medical research, supporting many types of contemporary research like genomics and personalised medicine.

Samples in biobanks, and the data derived from those samples, can often be used by multiple researchers for cross-purpose research studies.

As a Biobank Specialist, Caroline says her work is always busy and varied.

“As a new and emerging role, my work can be process-driven and data heavy one day, then flexible and strategic the next, accommodating for unexpected surgeries at the hospital,” she says.

“I also hand-deliver samples to pathologists and oncologists, am the go-to liaison for our medical collaborators, and also input and maintain comprehensive datasets.”

The precision purpose of biobanking  

The establishment of the biobank is a key part of the Hudson Monash Paediatric Precision Medicine Program.

The program started as a new research initiative with investment from the Children’s Cancer Foundation in September 2017 and aims to significantly improve treatment for childhood cancer patients with the greatest unmet clinical need – those diagnosed with brain cancers and solid tumours.

The biobank allows the team to trial and develop targeted treatments and improve clinical outcomes and survival rates.  It also aims to improve quality of life for childhood cancer patients by limiting the harmful side-effects of treatments.

“I am proud to be working as part of such an innovative program and team where everything and everyone is focused not just on meeting expectations, but exceeding them,” says Caroline.

“From a science perspective, the technology involved in our work was not around when I was at university.

“Together as researchers and clinicians, we all have a common goal and shared mission – the pursuit of finding a cure and better treatment outcomes for children. We are a tight-knit group, in it for the children, connected to both the parents and children.”

The establishment of a living biobank provides a critical resource for local, national and international researchers.

Knowledge sharing for advancement of treatments

A big part of Caroline’s role is to work with other researchers both nationally and internationally to build expertise, share resources and disseminate results that will advance the field of precision medicine for paediatric cancer patients.

“At state level I coordinate samples requested from other facilities like the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute,” she says.

“Nationally, I collaborate with ANZCHOG Biobanking Network, an organisation that promotes the biobanking of childhood and adolescent cancer samples in Australia and New Zealand.

“And globally Hudson Institute is  the first Australian-based institution included in the Children’s Brain Tumour Tissue Consortium, based in the U.S.”

Caroline says these partnerships are all geared towards sharing and accelerating global research into childhood cancers. 

“It is important for people connected and interested in our cause to understand it takes a village to care for a child with cancer.”

“Our researchers and clinicians are on the cusp of changing the way we treat children with cancer. We are an essential piece of the puzzle and the program is uniting the many pieces of the puzzle.”

Photo credit: Hudson Institute


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