The HSL-AD laboratory is a specialist clinical and research referral laboratory which has been providing expert services to UCLH hospitals and UCL research departments since the early 1980s. Supported by the consultant pathology team at UCLH, HSL-AD provides immunohistochemistry (IHC), in situ hybridisation (ISH), molecular and digital pathology services to hospitals throughout the UK and overseas.
Targeted cancer diagnostics
The unit is specifically designed to support targeted cancer diagnosis and treatment. “Almost everything in pathology is heading towards personalised medicine,” says David Allen, Head of HSL-AD. “Every patient is different, which is why tailoring the whole cancer pathway towards the individual can significantly improve outcomes.”
The unit is a major centre for lymphoma, breast, gastrointestinal and lung cancer biomarker testing, using both IHC and ISH techniques to help characterise and target cancers at a molecular level. Being a specialist centre, HSL-AD holds an ever-increasing array of protein and molecular biomarkers which may not be available in smaller laboratories. It has one of the largest collections of antibodies and in situ probes in the UK, specifically optimised for use on formalin-fixed paraffin embedded tissue sections.
HSL-AD is also leading the way when it comes to digital imaging, providing digital reporting for targeted fluorescent biomarkers in breast, stomach and lung cancer, with next steps in brightfield microscopy due in 2018/19. The laboratory also continues to work closely with Sarah Cannon Molecular Diagnostics to provide next generation sequencing for solid tumours.
Research and development
The HSL-AD laboratory is at the forefront of research and development within cancer diagnostics. As the preferred partner laboratory for UK NEQAS immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridisation, the HSL-AD team helps to prepare materials for external quality assurance and contributes to screening sessions held centrally by NEQAS.
As an accredited specialist UK reference centre with a dedicated research manager, HSL-AD also actively supports academic activities within UCL and across the UK. Of note is HSL-AD’s role as the centralised testing laboratory for the OPTIMA trial, a partially-blind randomised controlled trial designed to identify those women who are likely to benefit from chemotherapy and those who are not. Participants are assessed using a Nanostring based 50 gene multi-parameter genomic test called Prosigna, which analyses the activity of a group of genes known to affect how likely a cancer is to respond to treatment. The trial aims to show that patients with a low tumour Prosigna score can be effectively treated without chemotherapy.
A new home at 60 Whitfield Street
One of the next steps in the evolution of HSL-AD is the move to its new home in 60 Whitfield Street, which is being transformed into a specialist cellular pathology centre as well as housing UCLH’s rapid response laboratory.
For David, this is an exciting next step: “Since 2013 the AD team and service has doubled in size, and we’re continuing to grow. Moving into a brand new, state-of-the-art laboratory is an excellent opportunity for us to run our service in a more efficient way. Specially designed and with over twice the floor space, our new lab will allow us to run our existing service while also developing our UK and international reference work.”
“Another key strength of being part of the HSL family is the potential to link up with other cancer diagnostic teams within the group,” says David. “We’re looking forward to collaborating with other IHC laboratories as well as developing new innovative services with HSL’s leukaemia immunophenotyping and molecular teams.”