About us

Our People

At the heart of the HCB is its team of dedicated professionals, including technical, administrative and research personnel who ensure the delivery of quality specimens for research. Visit our team page to learn more about their roles and skills.

The operations team is responsible for the management and running of the biobank. Each have special sets of skills making them well suited to providing excellent biospecimens and services for research.

To contact the HCB team please email hcra-biobank@newcastle.edu.au

Marjorie Walker

Director of the Hunter Cancer Biobank

Marjorie Walker is Professor of Anatomical Pathology at the University of Newcastle Australia, an Honorary Staff Specialist at NSW Health Pathology, John Hunter Hospital Campus, NSW and Director of the Hunter Cancer Biobank, HMRI Newcastle. Previously she was Reader and Honorary Consultant at the Centre for Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, until 2012.Her expertise as a histopathologist is in interpretation of clinical or molecular events in tissue sections, correlating both routine pathology and immunocytochemistry to demonstrate particular cells or their function or secretion with clinical patient data. Marjorie principally works in gastrointestinal and urological pathology.

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Cassandra Griffin

Biobank Manager

As HCRA Biobanking Manager, Cassandra leads the biobanking team working across the Hunter Cancer Biobank, Sequential Blood Biobank and MHF Brain Biobank. Cass and the Biobank team coordinate investigator driven collections, assist with the scoping of new collection protocols for local research, provide high quality IHC and bespoke TMA services and work closely with the national and international biobanking community to ensure that we have the best possible resources and services available for our local researchers.

Cassandra has an eclectic background with experience in both clinical and laboratory research, as well as international experience in health communications and performing arts. She holds a BA (University of Newcastle) B BiomedSci (University of Newcastle) and MPH (University of Sydney).

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We have a group of highly trained and experienced group of laboratory technicians and pathologists who are responsible for processing tissue and blood samples for storage in the Hunter Cancer Biobank.

Ricardo Vilain

Biobank Pathologist

Ricardo is an Anatomical Pathology  fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia and the current Hunter Cancer Biobank pathologist.

He has bachelor degrees in Science and Medicine from Melbourne University and the University of Queensland and completed his anatomical pathology specialist training at the at John Hunter Hospital in 2013. That same year Ricardo completed postgraduate studies (PhD) for research work into melanoma kinase mutations. In 2014, Ricardo became the inaugural Cameron Melanoma Institute Australia Pathology Fellow, based at the Molecular Diagnostic and Tissue Pathology Department at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, where he undertook additional specialist training and research work in melanoma. In October 2015, Ricardo returned to the John Hunter Hospital to commence a full time position in the Anatomical Pathology Department. Ricardo’s specialty interests are in breast pathology, tumour neuropathology and melanoma pathology, as well as molecular testing and cytopathology.

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Melissa Tooney

Biobank Co-ordinator

Melissa is the Biobank Co-ordinator for the Hunter Cancer Biobank. Her role is to provide high quality annotated specimens and clinical data to scientists to support their research projects.

Melissa has worked for nearly 30 years in pathology in a range of different settings, both research and diagnostic. Melissa is excited to be working in cancer research, bringing with her an impressive array of laboratory and people skills.

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Megan Clarke

IHC & TMA Specialist

Megan is a technician for the Hunter Cancer Biobank. Her main role is to run the automated Immunohistochemistry using the Ventana Discovery machine to optimize crisp, clear and antibody specific immunohistochemistry slides. She is also involved in the tissue processing, embedding, sectioning and staining at the biobank. Megan has been working in the diagnostic anatomical Pathology Laboratory for over 25 years. Her experience and knowledge in all areas are valuable and she is more than willing to help on any project that is necessary. Megan completed her Diploma in pathology Techniques in 1992 and attends regular conferences and workshops to ensure she is up to date with all laboratory and immunohistochemistry techniques.

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Belinda Van Zyl

Biobanking Laboratory Technician

Belinda is a graduate of the Bachelor of Science from the University of Newcastle and has two years’ experience at PhD level in reproductive biochemistry along with 7 years’ experience in pharmaceutical sales specialising in cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. Following her industry experience, Belinda changed focus to Oncology and returned to her research roots focusing on Ovarian Cancer with Dr Nikola Bowden before transitioning to a role with Hunter Cancer Biobank for which she is one of the primary processing and logistical officers.

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Samara Bray

Biobanking Laboratory Technician

Samara has been a member of the Hunter Cancer Biobank team for a number of years as one of our key laboratory technicians. Graduating from the University of Newcastle with a Bachelor of Biotechnology, Samara has diverse laboratory experience and has worked for a number of research teams. Outside of her processing and laboratory duties, her primary role with Hunter Cancer Biobank is in the coordination of patient sample collection, distribution and cataloguing of received specimens.

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Trish Collinson

Laboratory Manager

Trish is responsible for the receipt, processing and storage of blood samples collected as part of the Sequential Blood Collection Feasibility Project. She has over 30 years experience in the medical laboratory field, including diagnostic pathology, medical research and with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service providing medical and support services. Trish uses her experience in laboratory techniques and administration, quality systems knowledge and organisational ability to ensure all blood samples are handled appropriately to enhance long term integrity.

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Jenna Bowen

Business Coordinator – Blood Biobanking

Jenna’s role includes managing operations pertaining to blood biobanking, including:

  • New business development, customer relations and project management relating to industry and internal projects
  • Preparation of customised quotations based on specific project requirements
  • Data collection and provision of detailed KPI reports as required
  • Database management; Configuration of project specific collection protocols using the biobanking informatics platform Openspecimen
  • Development of Standard Operating Procedures in consultation with each research group, for any new or revised laboratory or administrative protocols.

Jenna has a Bachelor of Forensic Science (Molecular Biology) from Griffith University and over 10 years experience in quality assurance and diagnostic pathology.

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The Scientific Advisory Committee is the primary governance body for the Hunter Cancer Biobank, ensuring compliance with all ethical requirements and providing academic input for strategic direction for all activities.

Committee Members

Dr Ricardo Vilain Chair
Cassandra Griffin Biobank Manager
Dr Sam Faulkner Post Doctoral Research Fellow
Dr Ryan Duchatel Post Doctoral Research Fellow
Dr Chris O'Neil VMO General, Endocrine and Breast Surgeon
Dr Jonathan Sillar Haematology Advanced Trainee
Sally Dean Clinical Trial Coordinator
Shirley Wee Biobank Manager Menzies Health Institute QLD

Our Processes

The HCB operates to the highest ethical standards with a focus on excellence in research governance. All biobanking activities are conducted with Ethical approval from the Hunter New England Human Research Ethics Committee to ensure all procedures are in line with best practice standards.

The HCB is governed by a Management Committee which includes member who represent the research and pathology interests of local cancer researchers. The aim of the HCB management committee is to ensure the development and ongoing function of a comprehensive, validate, well annotated cancer biobank to provide cancer researchers with fast, easy access to high quality patient samples – linked to clinical outcomes. The Management committee reports to the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance (HCRA) Director and Executive Committee.

Our Partners

The HCB has been established through the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance and works in partnerships with the Hunter Medical Research Institute and University of Newcastle who provide the biobank with space and facilities. NSW Health Pathology is integral to acquisition of biospecimens while working with the Calvary Mater Newcastle and Hunter New England Health provides the biobank access to collaborating clinicians and patients willing to donate specimens.

Funding Bodies

Funding is essential for the successful establishment and running of the HCB. We acknowledge the support received through the Cancer Institute of NSW in supporting the HCB through HCRA. The Mark Hughes Foundation generously supports the brain cancer biobank as a special collection of the HCB.

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.