Report preview: How can we use molecular pathology to unlock the accessibility of personalised medicine
I’m a lucky man: every day I wake up in the morning wanting to go into work. As a medical student, I always saw myself going into surgery, but a rotation in pathology with an inspiring supervisor made me change my mind.
I haven’t looked back. Pathology, it seems to me, is the very core of medicine. Without the diagnostic information that we provide or the monitoring of treatment response, our colleagues from other specialties would find it much more difficult to treat their patients.
When I was invited to take part in the Future of Pathology project, I jumped at the chance. As well as producing a report, the four pathologists taking part will be writing blogs like this and making videos. You can follow our progress by using #TheFutureOfPathology on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. There is more to read on this website too – please take a moment to explore. I want to use this opportunity to expand on the central role that pathology plays in enabling patients to be diagnosed and treated. And I want to ask healthcare managers and fellow clinicians to support us as we work to integrate recent developments in diagnostic techniques into our service.
This role of the pathologist is particularly crucial in cancer care. We have learnt a great deal about cancer over recent years. We now know that genetics plays a large part in whether an individual develops cancer, whether they respond to treatment and if they are likely to overcome the disease. Pathologists can use genetic information to help diagnose cancer and can work with the cancer specialist throughout the patient journey to monitor treatment response and check for any recurrence and changes in the disease. This is done using molecular pathology.
Molecular pathology is transforming cancer diagnosis and treatment. Cancers can still be diagnosed by looking at the tissues and cells using traditional histopathological assessment. But because molecular pathology enables us to look inside the cell at the genetic material and proteins it contains, we can carry out a much more detailed analysis to diagnose more accurately the type of cancer and the genetic changes that characterise it. This information increasingly helps oncologists to decide on the best treatment. I know from my own work on cancer in infants, that tumour cells from two different patients which appear similar when looking at them with a microscope, can be significantly different on the inside after analysing their genetic material. Identifying tumour subtypes like this has huge implications for how we diagnose and treat each individual patient. Molecular pathology is the key to personalised medicine.
Personalised medicine is an opportunity to improve how we treat disease and help people live longer lives. It is no surprise that healthcare communities around the world are committed to its development. For pathologists, this is an exciting time. It is also one that requires the expansion of molecular pathology through training, equipment, adequate personnel and information storage. I hope that my exploration of the topic of Molecular Pathology as part of the Future of Pathology project will inspire others to support us so we can make it a reality for all.
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This editorial is part of the Future of Pathology series sponsored by Leica Biosystems; it reflects the views of the authors, in their individual capacities.