Looking forward to chatting to you all!
Littleover secondary school, Derby 1982-1989; United Medical and Dental Schools, London, 1989-1996
10 “O” levels, 1 “OA” level, 4 “A” levels, BSc Immunology, MBBS, FRCPath
I worked for 3 years as a junior doctor in general medicine and surgery, then I started specialising in histopathology, before becoming a consultant histopathologist in 2005.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love looking at patients’ cells and tissues down a microscope, looking for clues that will tell me what might be causing their illness. It’s really satisfying piecing these clues together and coming to a conclusion that will help the patient get the right treatment for them.
I’m like a “disease detective” – I use a microscope to hunt down cancer cells in patients’ tissue samples and find out what type of cancer it might be – and this helps patients get the right treatment for their illness.
When people are ill, one of the things the doctor or nurse they see might do is take a “biopsy” – a small piece of tissue – from the part of the body where the problem is thought to be. The tissue can be taken using a needle, or cut out during a small surgical operation.
The tissue sample is sent to the histopathology laboratory, where the tissue is turned into microscope slides. My colleages and I then look at the slides, analyse the cells and tissues, and in most cases we can tell what the problem is, or if the tissue is normal.
We then pass on this information to the doctors and nurses treating the patient, and they can use this information to plan the best treatment for that patient.
A lot of our work is to do with identifying cancer. Cancer is not just one disease, but many. If you think about cancer affecting any particular organ, for example lung cancer, there are several different types of lung cancer, and the treatment of each type may be different. Us histopathologists can tell what particular type of cancer is present, and this again helps the patient get the right treatment for them.
As well as dealing with small tissue samples, histopathologists also receive larger specimens. For example we are sent whole organs, when patients have an operation to remove the organ in order to treat cancer. We dissect the organs – cut them up into smaller pieces – for more detailed examination. These smaller pieces are also turned into microscope slides, and we look at the cells with a microscope to confirm what the problem was thought to be, and to get other information. This includes how far the cancer has spread, and to where, and whether the cancer has been completely removed or not. This information will help decide whether the patient needs more treatment after their operation, and what kind.
So, I hope you can see that histopathology is all about helping patients find out what is wrong with them, and getting the right treatment.
My Typical Day
Most of my day is spent looking at cells and tissues down a microscope, and dissecting tissues and organs when they arrive in our department, as well as teaching our junior doctors, and attending meetings with other doctors to plan patients’ treatment.
As I’ve described in the other sections, looking down a microscope and dissecting tissue specimens and organs in our laboratory takes up most of my day. But I also spend a lot of time teaching junior doctors working in my department, who are training to become consultant histopathologists like me. They are like apprentices, and I supervise them when they dissect specimens and look at slides down a microscope, and I give them on-the-spot feedback and guidance. Training the juniors is important, because they are the people who will eventually replace me!
I also go to meetings, with doctors and nurses who are treating the patients whose tissue samples I look at. I describe what I’ve found, and we put together a treatment plan for each patient. Most patients with cancer will need a histopathologist to look at their tissue sample before their treatment can go ahead.
Although I have no contact with patients myself, I always bear in mind that there is a patient behind every tissue sample I see, who is relying on people in my department to get the treatment they need – the treatment which will hopefully end up curing them.
What I'd do with the prize money
I would put onto computer disks, 3-D “virtual” images of human organs containing cancer and other diseases, and “virtual” microscopic images of normal and diseased tissues, and donate copies of the disks to local schools – so students can “have a go” at being histopathologists themselves.
I have access to cutting-edge software which creates 3-D “virtual” images of real organs that are sent to my department. With the software you can look at the organs on a computer screen, rotate and move around the organ, zoom in and out, and examine it from every angle.
I also have access to another type of software, which creates “virtual” microscopic images, identical to what I see when I look at tissue down a microscope. With the software you can look at the microscopic image on a computer screen, move around it, zoom in and out – in fact do everything histopathologists do in their day-to-day work!
I would put a selection of both types of images onto computer disks, and donate copies of the disks to local schools. The schools could use them during science lessons, and students could have a go at being histopathologists themselves, while learning about the science involved.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Creative, logical, principled
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Learning about the science behind my work, and speaking to the public about it. People are genuinely fascinated by the human body.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
At the moment I like Jack White, The Black Keys, and Kasabian.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Driving a sports car round a racetrack!
Tell us a joke.
Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog – it’s too dark to read… ;-)