1 Aug, 2016

Dr Lisa Levett, Director of genetics and molecular pathology


Sometimes even those of us who work in genetics are stunned by our analytic and treatment capabilities. But what we are doing here at HSL is going to change medicine. The techniques we have at our disposal mean that it’s a very exciting time to be involved in molecular genetics.

They will allow us to introduce powerfully-accurate diagnoses and a truly personalised form of treatment. And because of the unique public-private partnership, it will mean the NHS will benefit from the kind of cutting-edge research and science that it may currently not be able to afford.

What we do here is fairly unique – even in the private sector there are few genetics labs and not many companies willing to invest vast sums in this kind of work. Yet because so much of medicine is moving towards the molecular, we hope that our work here will inspire laboratories across the country. Especially our commitment to collaboration.

Within the Halo building, specialists from different disciplines – virologists, microbiologists, molecular geneticists – will for the first time work together under the same roof, sharing what they understand about DNA. Twenty laboratories will consult on findings, insights and ideas. Problems that once took weeks to solve – viruses, pathogens, inherited disorders – will now take hours. In addition, we will be able to expand the work we do in companion diagnostics so that we can more accurately match an individual’s genetic make-up to the drug that will provide most benefit.

There are gaps in everyone’s knowledge and yet here we will be able to learn from each other and provide even better treatments. Such teamwork will lift, push and inspire us all and, instead of looking at things through the prism of our own speciality, we’ll be able to switch to other disciplines seamlessly. Medicine crosses all biological boundaries but, in a laboratory setting, it can sometimes be difficult to bring people together and work out how to solve issues and diseases. That’s why we are different.

It’s not just the work that we do which will have enormous repercussions, so will the fact that it’s a public-private partnership. If we at HSL show something is clinically valid and economically viable, then the NHS will be able to incorporate those advances too. What the private sector can drive, the public can benefit from.

For instance, we’ve created a specially-built laboratory to perfect non-invasive pre-natal testing techniques which allow us to analyse both a mother’s DNA and that of her foetus, without the need for extracting amniotic fluid. Such a test for Down’s might once have been restricted to private patients but now the NHS is looking to bring it in.

Hopefully, other trusts around the country will see what we’re doing and be similarly inspired to venture into bigger things and wider disciplines. This is the kind of investment that truly puts molecular pathology right at the heart of medicine.

HSL is a partnership between The Doctors Laboratory, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust (the Royal Free London) and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH)

Health Services Laboratories
Health Services Laboratories
Health Services Laboratories