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Subspecialties Histology, Biochemistry and molecular biology, Profession

Career Snapshots with Jeyrroy Gabriel

Jeyrroy Anjalo Gabriel
Senior Biomedical Scientist, St John’s Specialist Dermatology Laboratories
St Thomas’ Hospital and Guy’s Cancer Center, London, UK

Tell us about your biomedical science career…
 

I work as a senior biomedical scientist at St John’s Dermatopathology Laboratory, which is part of Viapath Analytics at St Thomas’ Hospital. St John’s is a specialist histology lab that deals predominantly with cutaneous disorders (for example, autoimmune diseases such as lupus and eczema) and cutaneous malignancies (such as melanoma and lymphoma).

I first entered the lab in 2014 as a medical laboratory assistant after graduating with a degree in biomedical science. Since then, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to complete a variety of different academic projects, such as the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) Certificate of Competence, the IBMS Specialist Diploma, and my Master’s degree in biomedical sciences. This has led to my progression through various roles at St John’s to my current role as a senior biomedical scientist.

What makes your work in histology unique?
 

Histology is a very hands-on discipline compared with other specialties, which are often more automated. Many aspects of histology – the dissection of biopsies, the embedding of the tissue in paraffin wax, the sectioning of the tissue onto slides, and even certain staining processes – are quite manual. If you’re a hands-on person, which I am, it’s the perfect discipline for you. I think that sets it apart from other fields. It’s a very visual discipline, too. The slides can be stained in a variety of different stains, which paints a beautiful picture of how the normal is altered into the abnormal. I am a visual and manual person; that’s why I love histology.

Why don’t more people pursue biomedical science careers?
 

Thousands of undergraduate biomedical science students graduate each year in the United Kingdom. The problem is that most of these degrees don’t include completion of the IBMS Certificate of Competence. That means students can graduate as biomedical scientists, but can’t work as biomedical scientists, because they can’t get Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration. This presents a significant barrier to a lot of students because they’re eager to work as biomedical scientists, so they have to compete for a very limited number of trainee spots in entry-level positions. I think the solution is for more workplaces to offer these sorts of training roles and apprenticeship schemes.

In our lab, we have a lot of opportunities for trainees, so everyone is encouraged to pursue their Registration Portfolio [required to apply for HCPC registration as a biomedical scientist]. At the moment, we have three going for their training portfolios and one in Viapath’s apprenticeship scheme, which allows non-science students to become biomedical scientists in a partnership with Staffordshire University. Things like that will allow more students to embark on the journey to becoming a biomedical scientist.

What’s your favorite part of your work?
 

The routine work is quite rewarding. You might think you’re just processing a patient sample – but, at the end of the day, that can impact the patient’s diagnosis and treatment. Another aspect that is very much encouraged in my workplace is getting involved in research and innovation. In our lab at St John’s, my manager, Guy Orchard, has worked with big pathology product producer to develop innovative products to ensure that we continue to progress and improve our field. I’ve had the opportunity to get involved in some other research projects as well, which I think has allowed me to problem-solve and to improve the organizational and teamwork skills that are vital in a routine diagnostic setting.

On top of that, we’re continually improving the accuracy and turnaround times of our tests. At the end of the day, we’re working to ensure that the patient gets the quickest, most accurate result they can. That’s why I enjoy the research and innovation aspect of our work so much.

… And your least favorite?
 

That’s a tough one. The last year has been challenging for everyone in terms of the pandemic and we’ve definitely seen an uptick in workload – but I think it has been really beneficial in certain ways as well. It has definitely brought the team closer together; there’s more communication between us, which has made dealing with the high workload a lot easier. We get support from management as well to ensure that we can handle the workload. I find that our team has grown stronger as a result.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve experienced in your career?
 

St John’s is one of the largest centers in the United Kingdom to perform the Moh’s micrographic surgery procedure. This is an intraoperative technique used to treat a variety of different skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The Moh’s surgeon removes a small margin of tissue around the tumor and sends this sample to be processed while the patient waits.

In the lab, the sample undergoes frozen sectioning, in which it is cut at a very cold temperature into very thin slices and then put onto a slide for staining. We stain it with hematoxylin and eosin (two common dyes used in histopathology); it is then evaluated by the Moh’s surgeon and consultant dermatopathologist to determine whether any tumor cells are still present. If so, they go back and take more tissue from the area; if not, they close the defect.

These tumors generally have a low mortality rate, but can have a highly destructive effect on the local tissue architecture. For example, in a patient with a tumor on the nose, a large portion of skin and tissue may have to be removed, leaving a hole in the patient’s nasal sidewall. What fascinates me about this procedure is how the surgeons close these defects. Sometimes, they do a “forward flap” in which they take a thin strip of tissue from the forehead and bring it down to the area where the defect is. Over time, it grafts onto the area. In a couple of months’ time, when we see the patient again, it’s as if nothing ever happened. It has really always fascinated me – and I enjoy seeing how good the results are.

What one key thing would you like to share about what you do?
 

No matter what discipline you want to pursue, at the end of the day, we’re all working for one common goal – to be able to process a sample for the patient and provide a diagnosis or a test result. So if you’re early in your lab career path, one thing I encourage everyone to do is to try and work out what fields interest you the most. Gain some exposure to those fields, either through work experience or through your university, to see which fields you’re enjoying and would like to pursue further – because the one that piques your interest and suits your skillset most may be the career path you’ll follow for the rest of your career. If you find a discipline like that, I highly encourage you to pursue it. That’s the one piece of advice I would like to give.

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