Technician’s excellent lab book secures patent application

A technician working in the MIB building was recently rewarded by the University’s Thank You scheme for the excellence of her record-keeping, and its impact on a patent application.  Anu Balasundaram works for Professor Clare Mills’ Molecular Allergology group, preparing and analysing ‘challenge meals’ for their commercial partner, Reacta Biotech.  Challenge meals are foods containing precise quantities of a known food allergen, e.g. peanut protein, or a placebo.  When administered to people with food allergies in a double blind placebo-controlled food challenge under medical supervision, they can be used to give an accurate food allergy diagnosis.

Reacta Biotech are in the process of applying for a patent in this area and leaned heavily on Anu’s lab book to provide evidence to support the application.  Dr. Martin Wickham, Reacta’s Commercialisation Manager wrote that Anu’s lab book record “provided us with exactly the evidence required, and therefore made my job of progressing the patent, really easy.”  He went on to say “I genuinely do not know what we would have done without the laboratory records” and praised their clarity and the speed with which she was able to produce them.

Anu’s supervisor, Professor Clare Mills, said “A good lab book is vital for substantiating data and conclusions made in papers, and also in identifying and protecting intellectual property…  Her exemplary lab book, with experiments clearly described, dated and signed off, has been essential in providing documentary evidence to the patent examiner.”

As part of its commitment to recognising its staff’s achievements, the University rewarded Anu with some gift vouchers under its Thank You Scheme.  Her line manager, Geoff Blunt, said “It’s so great to see Anu’s hard work and attention to detail being acknowledged and celebrated; it shows her work has real impact and she performs a vital role for the University and its partners.”

For more information on the University’s Thank You Scheme, and how you can request a card or present for a member of staff who should be acknowledged, please click here.

May Coffee Morning and new Technical Tours

The TEaM quarterly coffee morning was on 29th May and was well-attended.  Perkin Elmer demonstrated FTIR and ICP spectrometers and attendees were able to find out about upcoming Technical Tours.  More information on these shortly but they will include:

  • Chemistry’s electronics team
  • The Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama
  • A repeat of the Biological Facility tours from last year

January Coffee & Networking Event

On 17th January, TEaM held one of its quarterly coffee & networking events, this time with a stall from the School of Geography, following on from feedback that these events could be improved by adding some technical focus.

Geography showcased some of their X-ray diffraction equipment and provided a talking point.  The event was very popular, in fact the coffee ran out, so please remember to book on the eventbrite if you are coming, so we can make sure there’s enough next time!

UoM Technician wins National CPD Award

Laura Farrell, a technician at the University of Manchester’s Stoller Biomarker Discovery Centre, has won an award for her continuing professional development from the Science Council, an umbrella body that administers professional technical registration across all disciplines nationwide.

From the Science Council’s press release:

“On 21 September, winners of the Science Council’s CPD Awards were invited to a ceremony in London to celebrate their achievements.

The annual CPD Awards is designed to celebrate the continuing professional development (CPD) efforts and achievements of registrants from across the registers: Registered Science Technician (RSciTech), Registered Scientist (RSci), Chartered Scientist (CSci) and Chartered Science Teacher (CSciTeach). Now in its third year, the awards offer them recognition for their broad and diverse range of professional activities.

To be a winner or to be awarded a commendation for the CPD Awards demonstrates an individual’s commitment to undertaking work-based learning and self-directed learning at a high, exemplary standard in order to benefit the quality of their practice and to benefit colleagues, patients, clients or any other users of the service they provide.

Awards announced on the night are listed below.

CPD Award Winners
RSciTech, Laila Soraya, member of the Institute of Science and Technology
RSci, Laura Farrell, member of the Institute of Science and Technology
CSci, Daisy Shale, member of the Institute of Biomedical Science
CSciTeach, David Overton, member of The Association for Science Education

CPD Award Commendations
RSci, Claire Hutton, member of the Institute of Science and Technology
RSci, Nicholas Dunn, member of The Association for Science Education
CSci, Lindsay Peer, member of The British Psychological Society
CSci, Mohamed El-Guindy, member of the Institute of Science and Technology
CSciTeach, Nicholas Girdler, member of the Royal Society of Biology”


Tours of the Firs Botanical Grounds

The Firs Botanical Grounds are tucked away between Owens Park and the Armitage Sports Centre in Fallowfield, on land that previously formed part of Joseph Whitworth’s estate – the house of the estate is now known as Chancellors, but Whitworth had a long brick firing range on the grounds, and part of this was converted into greenhouses.  Further greenhouses have since been built on the site, as well as a specialist section for mosses and ferns.

The two tours were led by David Grantham, who has worked as the technician and effective manager of the site since 2009.  It was amazing how many plants from different parts of the world could be made to grow and even fruit using relatively modest amounts of heat and humidity.  A range of different experiments were in progress, as well as mass plant propagation for use both in experiments on main campus and for outreach projects elsewhere.

Through a programme of plant exchange with other institutions and with the various volunteer groups that help maintain the Firs,  the range of plants housed there has been increased over the years.  Banana plants, ginger, tea and coffee grew next door to giant (and toxic) euphorbia cacti and delicate Norfolk Island pines.

The greenhouses themselves are very vulnerable to both the weather and damage from the plants growing up inside, so it is a constant battle to keep the plants alive, but cut them back and contain their growth, particularly the cacti which grow much faster than in their arid native conditions.

Alongside all of the larger plants, David is also experimenting with propagating large quantities of seedum for potential use as green roofing material, and looks after a number of Venus fly-trap plants, which will be sent off to be prodded and poked by schoolchildren as part of the University’s Widening Participation programme.

Manchester Institute of Biotechnology tours

  In early June, Sandra Taylor led three tours of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, on Sackville Street.  MIB is a largely research driven environment with mostly Masters or Postgrad level students and research staff. There is a small core of technical staff underpinning the work and the running of the building. The groups are by design multidisciplinary and have a range of core facilities to support their research themes: Industrial Biotechnology, Biomedical and Healthcare (such as drug production), Biofuels and Synthetic Biology.

Tour-goers were shown a selection of the Bionanotechnology, Biophysics, EPR, Mass spectrometry, NMR, Protein expression, Protein structure and Transcriptomics core facilities, each of which is administered by their own Experimental Officer.  Further detailed information on these core facilities can be found here.

While the tours were well-attended, we did have some last-minute cancellations – please hold back from booking if you’re not sure you can make it as it prevents other people from going on the tours.

Technical Staff Profile – Karen Fry

Karen Fry
Master Technician
Biological Services Facility, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Describe your work area and its importance.
Working with animals used in the field of medical research is an important and valued job.   Caring for animals used in medical research means you are also contributing to helping find treatments for debilitating human diseases and conditions.  Many people’s lives have been saved or just made so much better using the information gained from this type of work.  You only have to look at the treatments discovered using animal research and how these treatments have improved the lives of men, women & children to know that it’s important.  The animals in our care are looked after with compassion and respect, and we as a University are constantly doing everything we can to ethically reduce the number of animals we use.  Whenever possible, animals within our care are replaced to use other non-animal methods to gain the same results.  When replacement isn’t possible and animals are used we are constantly looking for ways to refine the work to use the least number of animals possible.

On a typical day, what do you spend most of your time on?
My typical day at work consists of the general husbandry and care of rodents.  This mainly involves the health checking, cleaning and feeding of mice.  I have many other duties such as staff supervision, ordering of supplies, contact with researchers and the cleaning and general upkeep of our SPF (Specified Pathogen Free) animal unit.  There are also many other areas to my job (too many to mention) and this variation is one of the reasons that I love it so much.

Describe your career path to date, including highs and lows.
I started in retail work which suited my family situation at the time.  As soon as the children were older I began to pursue my dream of working with animals.  I studied for a BTEC National Diploma in Animal Care alongside working part-time.  After completing the course in 2004 I got the trainee animal technician job at the University but carried on studying whilst working.  I did several Open University courses (all biology based) and some work defined courses (1 year/2 year) all whilst working full-time.  Finally I completed level 5 & all but one module on level 6 animal technology degree level course.  I stopped studying late 2016.
High: Completing all of my study work whilst working full-time and raising a family, and of course my recent upgrade.
Low: Not being able to speak about my job openly.  I am proud of what I do and it would be wonderful to speak about it without fear of reprisals. Close friends and family know what I do but I’m not sure they fully understand what’s involved.

What drives you?
Firstly working with animals.  I have always had a life-long love of animals.  Being paid for doing what you love is the best motivation in the world.   This Job is challenging and different everyday which is why I love it. I know that I am making a huge difference and I am helping towards medically treating some terrible human illnesses.  Now that I have been upgraded I have a new level of responsibility, which adds a new interesting dimension to my job.  I work with an excellent hard-working team which enables the animal unit to run as efficiently and ethically as possible.  I am lucky enough to work in a pleasant work environment which makes going to work every day a pleasure.

Tell us a funny story, work-related or not:
On the day of my very first interview for the trainee position at the University I was asked to come to the Stopford Building reception and ask for Mr Terry Priest.  I was so nervous that I told the receptionist that I had an interview scheduled with Terry Waite!  I quickly corrected myself and I think (hope!) that I got away with it.

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
I don’t recall being given any specific career advice.  The best career advice I could give is that it’s never too late to train for something you’ve always wanted to do.  I came into this type of work quite late because of family commitments, but have never regretted it.  Yes it was a struggle sometimes, but I’m glad I did it.  You spend too much time at work to be doing something that doesn’t make you happy.  If you’re unhappy with your present role, retrain.  You’ll be so glad you did.