Spotlight on a QUOD Colleague: Dr Maria Kaisar

by Susan Patchett

This time we will be getting to know Dr Maria Kaisar who is a scientist leading valuable research to identify biomarkers to better assess the quality of deceased donor organs.  She explained that biomarkers can be proteins or genes that can be measured during organ donation to indicate the risk of poor function or even failure after transplantation.  Her work also investigates biological processes that may be altered during organ donation and impact on effective organ function.  She says that the more that can be learned about the changes in biological mechanisms, the closer we come to designing new therapies to repair organs and make transplants last longer.

Dr Kaisar says she feels privileged to have been part of the QUOD team since its creation in 2012.  She recalls the strong collaborative spirit of the clinical teams (NORs, SNODs), academic partners and scientists across a host of institutions including NHSBT and transplant centres who all contributed to the development of the QUOD project.  She has watched QUOD evolve into the platform it has become today and takes great pleasure in seeing QUOD samples supporting so much exciting research both nationally and internationally.

Maria has also been working on the COMPARE Trial that showed that the addition of oxygen during hypothermic machine perfusion of older DCD kidneys improved transplant outcomes.  COMPARE is a component of the Consortium for Organ Preservation in Europe (COPE).

Every day is different for Maria as she spends her time in meetings, designing new experiments, analysing data and drafting grant applications and papers.  She splits her time between her lab at the NHSBT Filton Blood Centre in Bristol, where she has built a small team, and at the University of Oxford working alongside colleagues in the QUOD/Ploeg Research lab at the Oxford Blood Centre. She also holds responsibilities as Vice-Chair of ESOT’s (European Society of Transplantation) Basic Science committee. Working with colleagues from across the United Kingdom and further afield in the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, France and Belgium has provided valuable friendships that extend beyond scientific interest.

Maria is a passionate advocate of the Women in Science initiative and diversity in science.  She says ‘We must rethink scientific careers to support career progression of scientists to senior leadership roles whilst caring for families – COVID has taught us that we can be productive in many ways and incorporate flexibility achieving a healthy work life balance. We also should aim to be more ethnically diverse as we can only gain valuable insights and perspectives’. The most significant obstacle faced by scientists today, she says, is the lack of long term, secure funding.  COVID has shown that investment in science is essential to meet the changing medical challenges we are faced with. 

Dr Kaisar’s journey in science began with her interest in biology at school, though she was also keen on philosophy, ‘very Greek!’ she laughs.  With a BSc in Chemistry from the University of Athens, she took up a one-year internship that became a six-year research role at Imperial College School of Medicine. After taking some time out to start a family, she returned to work for NHSBT and developed a strong interest in organ transplantation that led to joining Professor Ploeg’s group and completing a DPhil at the University of Oxford.

When Maria isn’t pondering science she loves holidays with her family, picnics, long walks and cooking.  She also loves live music and going to concerts and gigs which she hope to be able to do again soon.

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.

Meet the Team: Sheba Ziyenge, Data Analyst and Coordinator

In September, QUOD welcomed our new Data Analyst and Coordinator Sheba Ziyenge. Sheba has kindly agreed to share a bit more about herself and her role at QUOD:

What were you doing most recently before joining QUOD?
I was doing my Master’s degree in Cognitive Neuroscience in Barcelona.

What interested you about working with QUOD?
From my prior experiences, I knew I wanted to transition to using my data management, statistical and analysis skills in scientific research. QUOD stood out to me for their fantastic work in supporting contemporary transplantation research.

What does your role in QUOD involve?
My main duties include the management and development of QUOD databases, the extraction and allocation of biobank samples to research projects, supporting researchers with analysis and reporting. I also produce periodic statistics about QUOD activities for stakeholders and collaborate with NHSBT to process data relevant for the research projects.

Lightning round time. Tea or coffee?
Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon!

Favourite place in Oxford?
I love walking by the river up to Christ Church Meadows, it’s especially nice in the summer.

Ideal holiday destination?
I love travelling so this is a hard one! My favourite place I’ve been to so far is Mexico, and I have my eyes set on New Zealand and Hawaii for my next big trips!

Primary COVID-19 lockdown survival method?
Enjoying the little things such as burning scented candles, listening to nice music and looking after my plants.

Finally, what kinds of inquiries should people bring to you, and how best can they reach you?
I can be reached at, I’ll be happy to help with any QUOD data related queries.

Meet the Team: Bhee Bellew, Transplant Research Project Manager

At the beginning of September we welcomed our new Transplant Research Project Manager, Bhee Bellew. You can look forward to hearing more from Bhee as she settles into her new role, but for now here’s a short introduction:

What were you doing most recently before joining QUOD?
Decorating!  HR emailed to chase the photo required for my University Card, so underneath the dress I threw on there’s a paint-splattered t-shirt.  Work-wise, before my between-jobs break I’d spent many years at the University of Oxford, most recently managing a large grant in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages.

What interested you about working with QUOD?
I’d applied for a number of roles when my last contract ended, and was in the fortunate position of having some options to choose from. I imagined waking on a dark, wet February morning during a difficult work week (all jobs have them), and which role would most motivate me to get out of bed…and QUOD was the answer. It’s the opportunity to support research with such fantastic impact.  Also, everyone seemed really nice at my interview!

What does your role in QUOD involve?
It’s my 8th day in the job so this is question I’m currently asking other people!  I support Professor Ploeg in managing his portfolio of research projects in transplantation.  This includes maintaining core project documents, financial administration, meeting arrangements, helping prepare reports for funders, and supporting bids for additional funding. In addition to QUOD, I provide support for the Consortium for Organ Preservation in Europe (COPE).

Lightning round time. Tea or coffee?
Tea.  The only acceptable place for coffee is in tiramisu.

Favourite place in Oxford?
Wytham woods.

Best holiday trip ever?
New Zealand. I’m fascinated by geothermal landscapes, and bathing in natural hot water is wonderful.  Easier to get to on a regular basis, I love the Isle of Wight.

Primary COVID-19 lockdown survival method?
My favourite yoga studio’s classes live-streamed to my garden.

Finally, what kinds of inquiries should people bring to you, and how best can they reach you?
Email me at with QUOD admin or finance queries.

Covid-19 Update: QUOD Resumes

QUOD and NHSBT are delighted to let you know that QUOD sample collection has resumed as of Tuesday 28th July.

Due to the commitment and help from all of the QUOD collaborating partners, the QUOD biobank has been able to facilitate approximately 60 research projects and supported research groups to successfully apply for almost £ 9M of national and international funding, focusing on different aspects of donor organ quality and transplantation. Within the next few weeks we will also reach the milestone of 5,000 organ donors that have been included in the QUOD bioresource.

We are looking forward to getting back to work again and would like to thank all involved in QUOD for their ongoing support!

Unlocking QUOD: An Update on Developing Collaborations and Visibility

As you know, QUOD provides a unique bioresource of deceased donor clinical samples for research to improve donor and organ assessment, increase organ utilisation and transplant longevity; thereby saving more patients in need of a transplant.

In addition to biobanking, QUOD has also introduced a wider vision of collaborative research with both scientists and clinicians to accelerate research progress in organ donation and transplantation. So, QUOD has put the foundations to establish a scientific platform to include complementary cross-cutting scientific technologies across all donor organs. This vision includes the application of high-sensitive technologies such as proteomics, transcriptomics, imaging and machine learning applied to pancreas, kidney, liver, heart and lungs. Access to whole organs will also provide new exciting possibilities such as mapping the different cell populations of each organ to create cell atlases to better understand organ physiology.

QUOD is a bioresource open to any researcher with a high-quality scientific proposal. To reach all the researchers who might be interested in receiving QUOD samples we have taken steps to increase the visibility of QUOD. We are building valuable relationships with a number of  UK funding charities; including Kidney Research UK, Diabetes UK, Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation, The British Heart Foundation, The Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Kidney Research UK and Diabetes UK, in particular, have been invaluable partners and we are grateful for their participation in the Steering Committee. Both charities now showcase QUOD on their websites and have invited QUOD presentations to their clinical study groups and relevant research networks.

In 2019, The British Transplantation Society (BTS) has started an initiative to create a nationawide Research Network. The aim is to create a UK multi-disciplinary collaboration between patients, scientists, clinicians and other stakeholders, to optimise organ donation and utilisation, and improve outcomes for transplant patients. As QUOD is a national infrastructure to service research in donation and transplantation, we have offered our support and the option to integrate in the BTS Network hopefully providing a robust pilar for researchers to go to when needed. In addition to individual or collaborative research projects, QUOD is also able to adjust its sampling policies according to new developments in the field of transplantation, e.g. when we started to collect NRP samples upon request, or when clinical trials require this. As the basic infrastructure is already in place, project related additions are feasible if national strategy deems this as important.

To reach all transplant professionals with an interest in research we strive to have a presence at all the major transplantation conferences. Having a booth where researchers and clinicians come and talk to us has proven very popular.  We have enjoyed speaking to delegates and colleagues who make enquires about QUOD samples.  At the British Transplantation Society Congress in Belfast in March, it was great to see so many colleagues who came to talk to us and hear about new developments in QUOD and ongoing research.  It also offered us an opportunity to say thank you in person to so many of you for your valuable support. 

QUOD Partners with Blood Donor Service to Support National Research to Combat COVID-19

QUOD is very pleased to collaborate with the Blood Donor Service to support two major research projects related to COVID-19.

First, QUOD is providing support for the Convalescent Plasma Trials, REMAP-CAP and RECOVERY. The trials will collect plasma samples from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to administer to patients suffering from serious symptoms in the hope that this will boost their production of antibodies. QUOD personnel are assisting with the preparation and distribution of plasma from recovered patients, as well as the acceptance, storage, and distribution of plasma from trial participants.

In addition, assistance from QUOD was essential in the effort to rapidly scale up validation of COVID-19 antibody tests. COVID negative plasma samples from the QUOD biobank were used to provide a ‘healthy patient’ control group to test for false positives. QUOD personnel have also been hard at work preparing additional plasma samples provided by the Blood Donor Service for testing. Initial results of this antibody testing are described in this pre-print.

The swift and efficient deployment of QUOD resources and personnel to support these efforts is a strong testimony to the strategic value of the research platform we have built together. We are glad to have a meaningful role in enabling the national response to the crisis.

Meet the Team: Dr. Sarah Cross, National Operations Coordinator

After seven years, QUOD’s founding National Operations Coordinator, Sandrine Rendel, moved on earlier this year to a new role at Imperial College. We remain deeply grateful for all that she has done to establish and grow QUOD! Fortunately, we have found an excellent new Coordinator in Dr. Sarah Cross, and we are quite excited for the depth and breadth of experience that she brings to QUOD. You’ll be hearing much more from her as she settles into the role, but here’s a little introduction.

What were you doing most recently before joining QUOD?
I have spent the past 14 years working as a Research Scientist in Islet Transplantation and as the Deputy Manager of the Human Islet Isolation Facility here in Oxford. This involved many long hours isolating islets for both clinical transplantation and research purposes, as well as leading a small team of researchers studying the impact of donor variables on isolated islet quality and function.

What interested you about working with QUOD?
Having been immersed in the field of transplantation for my entire career, I have seen the incredible impact that transplantation has on the lives of recipients. I have been aware of QUOD for a while and wanted to use the knowledge and experiences gained through my academic background to help drive QUOD forward to fulfil its amazing potential as a national bioresource to facilitate world-class research.  

What does your role in QUOD involve?
I’m only a few weeks into the role so I’m currently discovering this myself! However, my main duties involve coordinating the QUOD team both here in Oxford and at our hub sites throughout the country. I am responsible for the governance of QUOD and all the regulatory aspects of the QUOD biobank.

Lightning round time. Milk chocolate or dark?
Both, all chocolate is greatly appreciated!

Favourite place in Oxford?
As a keen runner I enjoy discovering the quieter parts of Oxford – an early summer’s morning run around Christchurch Meadow is idyllic.

Ideal holiday destination?
I absolutely adore New York and am fortunate to have a local guide whenever I visit as my brother lives there. 

Primary COVID-19 lockdown survival method?
I’m extremely thankful that I moved house last year to a home that has a separate office for me to shut myself away in and a lovely garden so the kids can run around and burn off their endless energy!

Finally, what kinds of inquiries should people bring to you, and how best can they reach you?
Please get in touch with any queries via my email – If I don’t have the answer myself, I’ll pass it on to one of the other very knowledgeable members of the QUOD team!

Fifth Annual QUOD Symposium: Past and Future

Researchers and clinicians from around the country gathered on Monday November 19th in Manchester for the Fifth Annual QUOD Symposium. The Symposium is the primary opportunity each year for collaborators in the Quality in Organ Donation initiative to learn about research completed and upcoming plans to develop the program.

This year’s programme included updates on the development of whole organ atlases from our Newcastle University partners, James Shaw (pancreas), Gavin Richardson (heart), and Bill Scott (lungs). Maria Kaisar (NHSBT-University of Oxford) provided a summary of the research conducted across several QUOD projects to identify biomarkers.

The consortium was also pleased to welcome two new specialists for additional perspectives on the value and future possibilities for QUOD-related research. Susan Francis (University of Nottingham) provided an overview of the research undertaken by the UK Renal Imaging Network and some initial proposals on how whole-organ imaging can play a role in QUOD’s mission to enable better assessment of organs for transplant. New QUOD Steering Committee member Dan Harvey (Nottingham University Hospitals) shared perspective on ‘QUOD in the ICU’ and the long-term research potential that could be unlocked by linking QUOD data with other health-related data collected elsewhere in the treatment pathway.

This year’s Symposium also coincided with a major update to the QUOD website and the first release of compiled results from research supported by QUOD. So far researchers using QUOD samples and data have generated 28 known publications and presentations at transplant congresses including BTS, ESOT, and ATC. These findings address kidney and liver transplant and incorporate multiple disciplines including proteomics, transcriptomics, immunology, pathology, and much more. Highlights include:

  • Proteomic profiling of pre-transplant donor kidneys may correlate with one-year post transplant outcomes (Kaisar et al, Transplantation 103.2 pp. 323-328.)
  • 240 candidate genes significantly associated with DGF and others with long-term GFR (Clatworthy et al, BTS 2018)
  • Exosomal proteomes in donor serum reveal proteins associated with post transplant eGFR (Huang et al, BTS 2019)

First-time attendee Paul Gibson, Project Manager with the Human Cell Atlas at Sanger Institute, described the symposium as “a great opportunity to engage openly and collaboratively with clinicians and scientists across the QUOD consortium… When outlined, the vision and roadmap of QUOD cemented that it is truly an exciting time to be a part of this effort.”

The Quality in Organ Donation (QUOD) initiative is a national consortium to promote research and to facilitate service development in organ donation and transplantation. QUOD is funded by NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) and the Medical Research Council (MRC). Launched in 2013, this nationwide programme collects blood and tissue samples from about 80% of the nation’s organ donors, enabling research to identify pathways of injury and repair as well as predictive biomarkers in donor organs for transplantation. With this research, QUOD aims to increase the quantity and quality of transplantable organs, reducing the waiting list, cutting health care costs, and improving outcomes for patients.

Meet the Team: Suzannah Laws, QUOD Administrative Assistant

In March 2020, QUOD was very excited to welcome our new Administrative Assistant, Suzannah Laws. We are already thrilled with the impact that she’s having on the team, and many of you will already have received various messages from her. You can look forward to meeting her at upcoming QUOD-related events; in the meantime, Suzi has kindly agreed to share a bit more about herself and her role at QUOD.

What were you doing most recently before joining QUOD?
Before joining QUOD I worked on a school-based research trial at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford

What interested you about working with QUOD?
It’s exciting to be involved in world-leading research and to work in a multidisciplinary team.

What does your role in QUOD involve?
I provide administrative support to the QUOD research and management team. This involves ordering laboratory supplies, taking minutes at management meetings and assisting with communications.

Lightning round time. Tea or coffee?
Neither, hot chocolate!

Favourite place in Oxford?
Ultimate Picture Palace Cinema!

Best holiday trip ever?
Graduation trip to Tallinn, Estonia.

Primary COVID-19 lockdown survival method?
Yoga With Adrienne on YouTube.

Finally, what kinds of inquiries should people bring to you, and how best can they reach you?
Contact me via with any enquires regarding QUOD meetings and orders.