Meet Scientists Working in Pathology Services
Deborah Lakeland, Cancer Genomics Project Manager, Lancashire & South Cumbria Cancer Alliance
Hello my name is Deborah and my role sits in the regional Cancer Genomics Operations Group. Genomic Medicine is a new and exciting field of healthcare which uses information from our genes to determine the best course of treatment and medication. In my role, I work very closely with the North West Genomic Laboratory Hub to transform healthcare by implementing the Genomics Test Directory and embedding genomic analysis in patient pathways.
How did I get here? It all started in high school. Mrs Darken was my science teacher and she made it so much fun. Back in the day they had science O levels, then science A levels. I did both. Then I completed a specialist Biomedical Sciences degree in Cardiff, which was recognized by diagnostic laboratories in the NHS. I completed 2 years on the job training documented in a portfolio, and this allowed me to become a State Registered Biomedical Scientist.
My first job was in a hospital bloodbank, matching blood donations to patients in need of transfusions. Then I started working in a Clinical Immunology laboratory, assessing the immune function of patients. During this time I also became the Radiation Protection Supervisor and have responsibility for radioactive testing in my workplace. I took a secondment opportunity as technical lead enabling patients with rare diseases and cancers to access whole genome sequencing in the 100,000 Genomes Project. I have recently completed an MSc in Genomic Medicine at Manchester University and now work in Genomics full time across the network.
Typically my days starts with responding to emails requesting information or setting up meetings to discuss how the benefits of genome analysis can be used to best effect in my region. Sometimes I have to write reports or create presentations. I audit molecular testing to demonstrate the added value of the testing. Some days I am extracting DNA (as pictured) from blood samples of patients with COVID to test for the presence of certain biomarkers for research purposes. Always I am engaging other healthcare professionals from around the regions with the Genomic Medicine Service. It’s a huge undertaking but equally a really exciting time, and I am so happy to be leading these changes locally.
Leanne Hall, Immunology Lead Biomedical Scientist and Laboratory Manager (Immunology)
How do you go about setting up a lab from scratch to being fully operational in just 30 days? Ask Leanne – this woman in science certainly can!
Leanne’s usual day job is as Laboratory Manager in the Immunology Department at Royal Preston Hospital. Over the last few months she has played a pivotal role in setting up a laboratory at the University of Central Lancashire to support the roll out of LAMP testing for Covid-19 across Lancashire and South Cumbria.
Using her knowledge and experience from running the lab in Preston, Leanne and colleagues transformed an empty room into a fully functioning lab that was able to give out test results in one month. This involved everything from buying all the equipment and consumables needed, getting the test up and running, validating the results, recruiting and training the staff and ensuring all health and safety requirements were in place. Dr Amanda Thornton, whose background is not science but psychology, provided oversight as Project Director and was a driving force in ensuring that everything was in place in a very short space of time.
Leanne clearly relishes a challenge and one of the things that she loves about her role is that every day is different and usually brings about a new issue that needs to be resolved. Having seen the set-up of the lab at UCLan, Leanne is now back in her role at Royal Preston Hospital and says that supporting clinicians to improve the lives of patients is the most rewarding aspect for her.
Having always wanted to go into healthcare, Leanne originally wanted to be a Doctor or forensic scientist and then decided to do a degree in Biomedical Science. Whilst at university she took part in a placement year in the lab at RPH and ‘absolutely loved it’ and has never looked back, going on to study for a Masters which has enabled her to progress into more senior roles.
Dr Danielle Bury, Consultant Histopathologist, Blackpool Victoria Hospital
Watching Quincy run around with the police solving crimes was what first inspired a young Dr Danielle Bury to pursue a career in pathology.
She headed to Leicester for Medical School where fortuitously, her mentor was a pathologist and Danielle took an option to do a research year in pathology looking at melanoma diagnostics, which she absolutely loved.
After completing Med School, Danielle headed home to the North to do her F1 and F2, which is when she met colleagues in pathology at Preston. Professor Dawson set Danielle up to do her PhD which she did part time whilst working full time and finished just after she had taken up her current post as Consultant Histopathologist at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals. Dr Bury is also the pathology lung cancer lead and part of the NHIR Research Scholars programme through the North West CRN. As part of this, funding has been secured from Cancer Research North West for a study using saliva to detect lung cancer earlier. Danielle has also secured funding to set up a Cardiothoracic and Biofluid Research Bank to enable research into the better diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer across Lancashire and South Cumbria.
As the lung cancer lead at Blackpool Teaching Hospital, Danielle spends a lot of time examining specimens to determine a diagnosis and also stages cancer to agree the best course of treatment for patients, taking part in weekly MDT meetings. Whilst she doesn’t get to see patients, Danielle says that the most rewarding part of her role is taking a specimen through the lab to enable their treatment to start as soon as possible. Danielle is also a regional lead in molecular testing which enables targeted treatment for lung cancer in some people – this can buy people a lot of time.
Dr Robert Shorten, Consultant Clinical Scientist, Microbiology
Rob started his career at 18 as a trainee Biomedical Scientist in Biochemistry for a private hospital on Harley Street, studying for a degree over 4 years on day release. As it was a small hospital he also trained in disciplines other than biochemistry before moving to the Royal Free hospital in Hampstead where he trained as a Clinical Scientist in microbiology, including studying for a Masters then a part time PhD in tuberculosis.
He stayed at the Royal Free Hospital for 13 years, during which time he ran the laboratory for the High Consequence Infectious Diseases Unit for 10 years, which cared for patients with infections such as viral haemorrhagic fevers. 2014 saw a move to Public Health England in Manchester and he also spent a month in Sierra Leone diagnosing Ebola and sat Royal College of Pathology exams before finishing his training in Preston. He is currently a Consultant Clinical Scientist in Microbiology, giving clinical advice for the management of infectious diseases.
Making a difference to patient care is the most rewarding part of Rob’s role: “Every patient undergoes some form of test and these are sent to pathology, where dedicated and skilled staff analyse the tests and interpret the results to help doctors to then manage the illness. Pathology underpins all healthcare; every patient gets tested and every patient matters. Without pathology there would be no healthcare.”
One third of hospital patients receive antibiotics and part of Rob’s role is to ensure that they are treated with the right antibiotic at the right time. This is vitally important to ensure that they get better and from a broader population perspective, antibiotics must be used in the right way to prevent antibiotic resistance. “All drugs have side effects and antibiotics are no different. Inappropriate use of antibiotics can cause side effects directly to the patient, but they can also affect the wider population. Increasing antibiotic resistance means that we have fewer antibiotics available to us to treat even straightforward infections.”
Growing future talent is another passion for Rob who also has a role in the Association of Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine, contributing to training and national schemes. The Covid pandemic has highlighted the value of pathology and the need for highly skilled scientists. It is essential that there is a pipeline of talented people who are trained and able to respond in the event of a pandemic.
Dawn Dixon - Being a Biomedical Scientist in a Global Pandemic
My name is Dawn and I am Head Biomedical Scientist in Microbiology at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals. 2020 will quite possibly be the strangest year in memory; the year that I got to see a global pandemic play out right in front of me. I don’t directly see the patients and I exist in a bubble of specimen numbers and results, but I have an important role to play. I am also part of an amazing team that I am genuinely so proud of.
When COVID really hit in March 2020 the impact was dramatic and disrupted everybody’s lives, and no more so than in the laboratory asked to head up the initial COVID response for the region.
Within a matter of a few weeks we had a workable assay and, more extraordinary, a fully-fledged 24/7 workforce. When the staff were asked what they could do to help they pulled out all the stops, volunteering to do long shifts, night shifts, extra shifts – anything to get the new service off the ground and ensure the non-COVID samples that still needed processing were dealt with correctly.
The temptation was to put all the focus on COVID but Microbiology isn’t really something that can be put to one side until you have time for it – yes I know we take days to get a result because the bugs grow slow - but samples have to be processed as soon as possible to avoid deterioration and the Micro staff ensured the routine tests were done with the same care and quality as always.
The Covidians – staff on the COVID rota – were equally fantastic, training, developing methods and trouble-shooting the new instruments and assays. We even had some help from our friends – staff from other departments in Pathology and from other Micro departments came in to lend a welcome hand. And an amazing group of healthcare assistants were brought in to label and prepare samples without whom we would have really struggled.
The atmosphere in the COVID lab has always been really upbeat – we built a service in a time scale we never would have thought possible and wouldn’t have attempted under normal circumstances and have recruited some excellent new staff! Together we have overcome issues and learned from what we could have done differently. But we made it this far and we are proud of what we’ve achieved.