‘I want healthcare companies to take a leading role in a climate change solution’

5 Feb 2020

Joan Russell, Beckman Coulter. Image: Eamon Ward/Beckman Coulter

Joan Russell of medtech company Beckman Coulter, based in Co Clare, is helping to manufacture fertility tests for the worldwide market.

Joan Russell graduated with a degree in microbiology from NUI Galway in 2004, followed by stints working at Abbott, Olympus Life Science and Medtronic. In 2015, she joined the medical devices company Beckman Coulter when its Clare and Galway sites were consolidated.

She is currently a staff technical operations scientist at the Clare site.

‘Couples are having children later in life so more fertility issues are arising, which means we need high quality products to help with their fertility journey’

What inspired you to become a scientist/researcher?

From a very young age I was interested in how things worked, and my love of science is an extension of that. I wanted to make a difference in my work and I think science is a great way to help people.

At Beckman Coulter’s site in Clare, we are manufacturing products that can help change people’s lives and it’s a wonderful feeling to play a part in that role. The company’s AMH and Estradiol tests are manufactured exclusively from the Co Clare site and are used in labs to help test and treat fertility for couples around the world.

Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?

I support the manufacture of fertility tests formulated at Beckman Coulter. These immunoassay tests (AMH and Estradiol) are used by clinicians to help get answers for women at a time when they are most vulnerable.

AMH can be used to predict a women’s response to ovarian stimulation as part of IVF treatment and it can also estimate how many years of fertility a woman may have left, based on their ovarian reserve.

Estradiol determines the best time to implant for a greater chance of successful conception. The results can really affect people’s lives and we know that these tests could be used by ourselves, our family members and friends, so we always keep that in mind when we are manufacturing these products.

In your opinion, why is your work important?

Couples are having children later in life so more fertility issues are arising, which means we need high quality products to help with their fertility journey. There have been massive improvements in the science and technology of fertility testing and the success rates of fertility treatments have greatly improved, so now couples have more options.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a researcher in your field?

The biggest challenge currently that the whole in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) device field is having is preparation for IVD regulations due to come into effect in 2022. Some of the products have been on the market for 20-plus years and need to be remediated to meet the current requirements.

Are there any common misconceptions about this area?

I think people misunderstand the level of complexity associated with assays development, validation and control of performance from lot to lot. We are working to address this, but our goal is to produce products that are safe, reliable and compliant so our customers don’t have to worry about how they were developed. We have had a couple of customer visits on site and we were able to show them our manufacturing processes.

Generally, what are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the area that you work in the years ahead?

I would like the see the barriers to healthcare removed, giving people who struggle to access the care they need the same chance of a better outcome as others. I would also like to see healthcare companies take a leading role in becoming part of the climate change solution by incorporating care of the environment as well as patients into their mission.

Less plastic packaging, less dependence on single-use plastics, as well as making more conscious decisions on transport would help to slow down the effects of climate change and provide a safer and cleaner environment for everyone, which in turn has huge health benefits.

Are you a researcher with an interesting project to share? Let us know by emailing editorial@siliconrepublic.com with the subject line ‘Science Uncovered’.