We caught up with Sandra Frater, head of clinical support in our laboratories team, on the changes she’s seen in her 25-year career with Anthony Nolan, and what the future holds for HLA typing. Sandra joined us straight from university after completing her undergraduate degree in biochemistry.
What happens in Clinical Support?
‘There are nine of us in the team and we test all the clinical samples. This includes HLA typing, virology typing, and ABO typing. We authorise the results and add them to the database as either donor or patient records.
‘We are the Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics laboratory for four transplant centres (TCs), which means we receive patient samples, family samples, and any unrelated potential donors that the TCs want to test.
‘Working with the TCs, we advise and comment on the suitability of donors for different patients. We will do all the testing leading up to a transplant, which includes CMV, HIV1/2 and Hepatitis B and C infection. ‘In addition to this, my team is responsible for keeping the register up to date with HLA types, results of new donors coming onto the register, adult donors, and cord samples – ensuring they are authorised and on the database available for searching.’
There have been so many advances in the field since I started at Anthony Nolan.Sandra Frater, head of clinical support
‘There have been so many advances in the field since I started at Anthony Nolan, and new technologies have been developed. For instance, 25 years ago, we reported HLA results for three or four loci – now we report on 11! I helped to develop molecular typing and bring it into routine use in the laboratory. Using next generation sequencing testing in the lab has had a knock-on effect of reducing our turnaround times for sending results to the TCs.
‘My role means that each day is different; I enjoy working in the patient clinical interface. I can examine data generated in the lab and translate it into advice for the clinicians to treat patients.’
Diversifying the register
‘I’m often asked about my long service at Anthony Nolan as it’s rare for people to stay in a job for so long! One of the reasons I have stayed is that I believe in the Anthony Nolan cause on a human level and want to do the best I can for the patients facing cancer or blood disorders that require transplant.
‘The donor register needs more diversity to better serve the population, as some ethnic backgrounds have fewer common phenotypes. As a person from an ethnic minority background myself, I want to be there to raise awareness and keep the fight going.’
‘I think probably one of the next big things on the horizon is looking beyond classic HLA genes and examining other factors that impact transplant outcome. So we’re looking for different HLA genes and the latest tools coming onto the market that we can use to better match a donor to a patient.’
Huge thanks to Sandra for sharing her insights and giving us a glimpse into the world of Clinical Support. We’re excited about what the future holds for transplantation and cell therapy, and committed to pushing the boundaries of what these can achieve for our patients.