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Spotlight on the GenV laboratory

A sophisticated research project like GenV has a great many talented and passionate people working behind the scenes to create a stronger approach to child and parent health and wellbeing in Victoria.

Have you ever wondered what happens in the GenV laboratory once a sample comes in? Our GenV Lab Manager Dr. Kim Powell explains.

When the opportunity arose to join the GenV team, I was very excited to be a part of a project that will have long-lasting, positive impacts on children’s health and development.

I have worked in medical research all my career. Prior to joining GenV, I was laboratory head of a research group whose research focus was investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying epilepsy and using findings to better inform on identifying new treatments for the more than 30 percent of epilepsy patients that don’t respond to current treatments.

More recently, my main project focused on understanding the impact of recurring seizures on the heart. Also, researching the underlying molecular mechanisms in the brain and heart that contribute to why epilepsy patients die suddenly, in the hope of identifying molecular targets for new drug discovery.

I am a mother of two and I have always been interested in the research done by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), with both my kids being involved with different MCRI research projects over the years.  When the opportunity arose to join the GenV team, I was very excited to be a part of a project that will have long-lasting, positive impacts on children’s health and development.

At GenV, I manage the small team of four laboratory technicians that process samples provided by participants. GenV has two high-throughput liquid handling instruments and it is my main task currently to get these operational and train the lab team to use them. This work is critical for statewide project like GenV as the number of samples coming in every day is increasing and manual processing will not be able to keep up with the volume of samples.

The GenV lab team are very dynamic, adaptable and flexible depending on when samples arrive and how many arrive per day, and they work very well together as a team. Generally, the lab team spend the first part of the morning doing data entry for incoming serum and saliva samples.

When serum samples arrive from pathology sites late morning, they need to be processed and divided into smaller samples straight away. This is called aliquoting. Serum samples are aliquoted into tiny tubes around two centimeters high and stored in the GenV Biobank, an automated storage system that can hold millions of samples, specifically designed to store sensitive biological samples at -80°C.

Saliva samples arrive by post at all times of the day and because they are stable at room temperature, they don’t have to be processed straight away but can be fitted in around serum processing. Saliva samples are treated with an enzyme called Proteinase K. This breaks down the contaminating proteins so in the future if DNA is extracted for research purposes, the saliva samples won’t be contaminated with proteins. They are then put in a 50°C oven for two hours to allow Proteinase K to work. Then, the saliva is aliquoted in tubes and stored in the GenV Biobank.

Lots of data entry and lots of sample processing sum up a day in the life of the lab team very well! There is further data entry after serum and saliva samples have been processed to keep track of what has been done to them and where they are stored.

GenV is such an important project in my view due to the sheer scale of the project… statewide collection of biosamples from pregnant women, babies and other parents is a huge undertaking. It is the first project of its kind in Australia and our biobank is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Being so inclusive of all ethnicities and backgrounds will provide an invaluable biobank for researchers to access and provide insights that will improve the health and wellbeing of an entire generation.