Collecting for the tissue bank — the work of two research nurses

Our labs at the GMRI rely on human tissue samples for our research projects. These samples are stored in the GMRI tissue bank, which forms a valuable and unique resource for our work. To collect the types of samples we need requires the knowledge of two research nurses. With many years of nursing experience between them, Carolyn Croasdale and Merie Claridge make up this experienced team.

Recruiting and collecting samples is a lengthy and often complicated process. And with samples arriving daily, it also works out to be a fine juggling act.

Dealing with many types of samples and many personalities

The tissue samples that Carolyn and Merie recruit consist of different types of cancer, including lung, brain, bowel, kidney, and head and neck, to name a few. They also recruit other types of samples, such as vascular birthmarks and keloid tissue. And they recruit normal tissues too, such as placenta, to use as controls (comparisons) in experiments.

In their work, the nurses interact with a wide range of people and teams: surgeons, anaesthetists, pathologists, and other theatre and hospital laboratory staff, and of course the patients who consent to providing the tissue samples.

Recruiting samples — a lengthy process

The process begins with selecting potential patients, in collaboration with surgeons at Wellington, Hutt, Wakefield, Southern Cross, and Boulcott Hospitals. Carolyn or Merie then approach the patients directly, often shortly before they go into surgery. They ask the patient for permission to take a very small piece of tissue from the specimen removed by the surgeon during surgery and not needed for diagnosis.

Years of experience and honed instinct go into communicating well with patients at this vulnerable time. Almost every patient is happy to donate tissue, especially after Carolyn and Merie explain that doing so may help us understand their disease. People like to know that others may benefit from the research, and the nurses feel privileged to witness their generosity.   

The hospital staff are equally helpful and supportive, despite their own busy schedules. Carolyn and Merie try to make things as simple as they can for the staff and acknowledge their continuing support.

After surgery, the specimen removed by the surgeon goes to the hospital laboratory. There a pathologist takes a sample, which the nurses then organise to get to the GMRI as soon as possible. At the GMRI lab, the tissue is processed and stored in the tissue bank.  

Great teamwork helps to keep the motivation going

Working as a team, Merie and Carolyn bounce ideas off each other. They work in different hospitals, but always towards the same goal.

Carolyn and Merie both have children affected by cancer. And they’ve seen the importance of a different approach to treating cancer through being involved in the GMRI’s research. Dr Swee Tan’s vision of an effective, less-invasive, and low-cost treatment for cancer motivates them the most. They love being involved and contributing towards the cause. ‘There needs to be better ways to treat these conditions,’ says Carolyn.

Read more about the tissue bank