Supporting specialists

27 January 2020

Through the Molecular Pathology Starter Programme, the NIHR BRC is training new scientists in the latest diagnostic techniques

Ben Challoner

The NIHR BRC is committed to improving diagnostic medicine and is supporting the next generation of clinician scientists by training them in the latest techniques through the Molecular Pathology Starter Programme.

As genetic technologies and personalised medicine advance at a rapid pace, it is essential that the methods we use to diagnose and monitor cancer can keep up.

Histopathologists diagnose disease by studying the physical form and structure of tissues and cells. However, there
is an increasing need for these specialists to have a comprehensive knowledge of the molecular and genetic causes of cancer too.

The six-month Molecular Pathology Starter Programme has been designed to further the abilities of trainee histopathologists by enabling them to gain an understanding and practical experience of the molecular techniques used to diagnose cancer and monitor progression. In addition to enhancing a career in traditional diagnostic histopathology, the course will equip trainees with the laboratory expertise required to pursue a career in research.

“My lab experience has really opened doors to a research career”

Dr Ben Challoner recently completed the programme, during which he investigated whether the quantity of immune cells found in tumours of the upper gastrointestinal tract is linked to patient outcomes.

“Before my medical degree, I studied biochemistry – so I have always been driven to understand the causes of cancer and how genetics can influence the behaviour of our cells. The programme provided an excellent opportunity to develop my understanding of this field and gain expertise in new molecular techniques.

“It can be difficult to transition into a research career from pathology, so my experience in the lab has really opened doors. As a result, I was able to successfully apply for a PhD studentship at the ICR, where I am now working under the supervision of Dr Marco Gerlinger, an academic medical oncologist who seeks to overcome drug resistance in gastrointestinal cancers.

“As a future consultant, I will now be able to approach cancer diagnostics from two perspectives – traditional histopathology and aspects of molecular pathology – and hope to guide future histopathology trainees down a similar route to promote the integration of these two fields.”