Molecular Pathology and Biobanking

Professor Manuel Salto-Tellez and Dr Jackie James, Lead Investigators

The Molecular Pathology Programme at CCRCB includes the Northern Ireland – Molecular Pathology Laboratory (NI-MPL), the Northern Ireland Biobank (NIB), the Digital Pathology programme and an incipient Comparative Pathology Group. NI-MPL is a self-contained, purpose-designed, nationally accredited hybrid operation capable of performing molecular pathology translational research and molecular diagnostics of solid tumours.

The molecular pathology diagnostic unit is a partnership between CCRCB and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT).   The official opening of the NI-MPL took place on Wednesday 9 January 2013; you can view the accompanying video below.

The technologies available in the basement hub are tissue and nucleic acid based, and include: tissue processing and embedding, conventional HE, manual and automated immunohistochemistry, various automated in-situ hybridization techniques, tissue microarrays, gel and capillary electrophoresis, Q-PCR, Next Generation Sequencing, laser capture microdissection and tissue bioimaging. This has been complemeted with capacity to undertake high-throughput gene expression, methylation and gene copy number analyses, currently under validation. The laboratory environment ensures the proper SoPs, procedure manuals and QA/QC schemes to exercise its hybrid role.

This laboratory is able to provide research support to basic scientists willing to understand the clinical relevance of their research findings, academic oncologists willing to have biomarker analysis or validation in the context of clinical trials, and all those in need of high-quality, affordable molecular diagnostic testing in oncology. Within the first 15 months, the programme has attracted research funding and diagnostic structural funds in excess of £1million, has validated some of the core molecular diagnostic tests and has taken part in some of the best published work of CCRCB.

Molecular Pathology Diagram 2Molecular Pathology research in Belfast involves academics at QUB and clinicians within the BHSCT Tissue  Pathology laboratories and is underpinned by the new Northern Ireland Biobank.  The NIB is funded by the Health and Social Care (HSC) Research and Development (R&D) Division of the Public Health Agency of the Northern Ireland and a local charity, the Friends of the Cancer Centre; it is also supported through the CR-UK Centre grant. The NIB enhances translational cancer research through the quality assured collection of tissues and blood samples linked to reliable clinical and pathological data sets. 

The Belfast Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) previously had project-based but no systematic tumour tissue collection capabilities; however, the NIB has now put in place a robust infrastructure to facilitate tissue collections associated with phase I-III trials. The NIB complements clinical trial activities by establishing a unique targeted collection of tissues and bodily fluids, including normal and tumour tissues, for translational studies. The NIB is supported by a secure, information management system modified to include the integration of whole slide imaging and tissue microarray management.  There is a close working relationship between the NIB and the NI Cancer Registry to ensure all samples processed for the bank are linked with robust de-identified clinical and pathological information collected from state of the art data repositories.