Thursday 16 August 2018

Real life and work: Making a difference

Lisa Matassa

Being paid to do the job of your dreams is just a fantasy for most, yet it has become a reality for four Irish people

This is the second year of the World of Difference competition run by Vodafone Ireland Founsaid dation. The prize? A chance to spend one year working for a charity of your choice on a salary of €40,000, plus expenses. Unsurprisingly, this year’s event was again inundated with applications from hopefuls from across the country.

But four people impressed the judges most and secured their dream job for 12 months.

Paul Clabby, a medical device technician from Galway, chose to work with GROW, an international mental health organisation. Clabby himself suffered with depression and defeated it with the help of GROW. He will work with the Galway branch as a young adult co-ordinator.

Ailish Irvine, an English-language teacher from Co Mayo, will work with Mayo Intercultural Action, a voluntary group that supports immigrants in developing skills to access employment.

Helen O’Grady chose to work with Doras Lumini, a charity focused on creating a development skills programme for immigrants in Limerick.

Caring about cancer

Blanaid Mee (30) didn’t expect to be chosen as a winner of the World of Difference programme, but her passion for research into cancer care and treatment didn’t go unnoticed.

The Kildare native has just finished up at St James’s Hospital to take on her new role as a technician with Biobank Ireland. Over the next year, she will devote her time to enabling tissue and blood samples from cancer patients across three major hospitals in Ireland to be collected and stored for research.

A biobank is essentially a freezer kept onsite at the hospital where the samples are taken. Mee was first introduced to Biobank Ireland by a colleague (the founder of the charity), who was also working at St James’s Hospital. The hospital has its own biobank and Mee is keen to see a network established between it, Beaumont and Galway hospitals, whereby each would have its own freezer. “The important thing is that all samples are collected in the same manner for quality control purposes. It is also important that samples are kept fresh, hence the need for a biobank in each location,” says Mee.

A devotee of science, Mee holds a PhD in collaborative research. At the outset, something as simple as collecting samples may not seem like cutting-edge science or the stuff of dreams for that matter, but Mee explains why she is so passionate about the subject. “I was very surprised to find that researchers can spend a lot of their time collecting samples, which takes away from the time they have to carry out research.” This is especially important when you consider some of these people may only be on short-term contracts.

Consistency in the samples taken is another vital element and something Mee is vocal about. She cites the need to establish quality control procedures within the hospitals as one of her goals for the year.

Mee herself will be hands-on to achieve the aim of collecting between 250 and 300 samples throughout the year, which is no mean feat considering it involves working around surgery times and liaising with a trained pathologist to ensure proper tissue samples are collected for biobanking.

This is the first time a collaborative biobanking project has been carried out in Ireland and Mee is seeking to prove that collaboration of this kind is possible on a nationwide basis. “I am excited about the year ahead. It’s very important to me that we collect as many high-quality samples as possible.”

www.biobankireland.ie

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