Spotlight on a QUOD Colleague: Dr Hannah McGivern

by Susan Patchett

As part of our new series of spotlights on QUOD colleagues, I caught up with QUOD’s Tissue Handling Technician, Dr Hannah McGivern this afternoon.

Hannah takes receipt of and processes donor tissue samples; that is to say biopsies from both deceased and living donor organs, sent to us by QUOD hospitals up and down the country.  These samples are then stored in the biobank ready for researchers to apply for access to.

Hannah finds her work rewarding and relished the opportunity to learn the raft of new skills in soft tissue processing. She says that she feels privileged to collect samples in theatre for the Oxford Transplant Biobank (OTB), and to play a small part in this important moment in the lives of living donors and recipients. 

2020 has, of course, been a difficult year and the sudden and dramatic impact of the pandemic has been felt by everyone.  Hannah has also been working alongside QUOD colleagues to process plasma samples from individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 for the Convalescent Plasma Programme and for the new COVID BioArchive (COBA).  The pressure has been high in terms of the sheer volume of samples; the record was 300 samples processed in just one day!  Hannah feels honoured to be contributing to work that has the potential to have an important impact on the world; and on the future of biological science; ‘This is what every scientist dreams of.’  You can read more about COBA in our latest newsletter.

Hannah began working with us just over a year ago, during the final stages of her PhD at Cranfield University.  Her studies focussed on the structure and mechanical properties of the human skeleton.  She looked, in particular, at the ribs and clavicle and how their condition changes as we get older. Her work showed that our mechanical strength peaks in our mid-thirties before deteriorating.

Hannah’s interest in science began at the tender age of seven when her grandfather, an engineer in the Royal Air Force, described yeast as ‘little animals’.  At around eleven, her love of science was set in concrete when, at school, she came across a crime scene investigation kit which taught pupils the basic principles of forensic science, including how to take fingerprints. With her appetite whetted, she went on to study for a BSc in Archaeology with Forensic Science at the University of Exeter, followed by an MSc in Forensic Osteology at Bournemouth.

She has participated in archaeological digs as far afield as the USA and Iceland.  At Cranfield, she assisted with the cataloguing of human remains from a dig, colloquially dubbed Rat Island (Burrow Island), a tiny peninsula that juts into Portsmouth Harbour.  It is thought that the skeletons found there could be prisoners from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  It was revealed that one may have undergone surgical experimentation, post-mortem, as the top of their skull had been removed.  The dig featured on ‘Digging for Britain’ a production for the BBC presented by Professor Alice Roberts.  Hannah is fascinated about what can be learned about the past from skeletal remains.  If you’d like to know more about this project click here.

Hannah is passionate about outreach work and contributes wholeheartedly to public engagement for QUOD.  In addition, she was selected to participate in Soapbox Science, an interactive outreach event to promote the work of female scientists. She is also a volunteer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Ambassador going into schools to raise awareness of the careers available to women.  Having grown up in an area of the country  where the uptake of higher education is lower than much of the country, she strives to change preconceptions about female scientists and inspire young women to embark on careers they may not have deemed possible.  She is an avid supporter of the ‘Women in Science’ initiative and points out that QUOD, being staffed predominantly by women, is a perfect example.  You can read her blog by clicking here.

Though it is not all work, work, work for Hannah; she has a passion for literature and film, was an avid fan of Top Gear growing up and when she can, enjoys Latin and ballroom dancing.