The Royal Marsden

A day in the life of: Farsab Nadeem, Medical Laboratory Assistant

My team is part of the Pathology service, which covers a wide range of departments offering clinical diagnostic services.
royalmarsden_medical staff

I started working at The Royal Marsden in the blood sciences team last year; my background is in molecular genetics, specialising in cancer genetics. My team is part of the Pathology service, which covers a wide range of departments offering clinical diagnostic services. we’re responsible for the processing, testing, storage and distribution of all patient samples at the hospital – I can often work with more than 500 samples every week.

No one day is the same, as I work across a number of different specialities. I’m currently working in the labs in Chelsea as part of a 15-strong team – between us, we cover 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so there is always someone here to process samples.

Blood will tell

When I start work at 9am, my first job of the day is usually to help the team book in blood samples for analysis. I work with patients’ ‘unseen data’, gathering information on factors like red blood cell counts and whether there is a fluctuation of hormone levels or a change in tumour markers in the blood. These factors determine whether patients are well enough to be treated or how they are responding to a particular treatment and help us identify any unusual activity in their blood count. Measuring the full blood count is particularly crucial for patients who are enrolling on clinical trials.

Some of the treatments being trialled can cause the red blood cell count to decrease and result in anaemia in patients, so their red blood cells must be above a certain threshold before they can safely receive a new drug. One of my other priorities is to maintain a sufficient stock of blood and platelets for use in surgery. This has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the hospital has been facilitating more surgery through the new Cancer Hub.

Faster testing

Every week, we get more than100 swabs and samples from patients who are due to have surgery, all of which need to be tested for any trace of COVID-19, as well as other infections such as MRSA and C. difficile. These tests are vital in a cancer hospital for infection prevention and control and pre-theatre screening.

We have nine analysers in our lab, but thanks to a donation from Ralph Lauren, we now have a brand-new COVID-19 testing facility in the Ralph Lauren Centre for Breast Cancer Research. I will be part of the team responsible for running samples on the new analyser, which can give results in two hours, compared with the two to three days it usually takes. It will be used to test any patient who needs a rapid result. This will be hugely beneficial as it will allow us to provide as much cancer treatment as possible as our services recover, and will help us remain COVID-protected. The machine can also be used after the pandemic to test for many other infections.

Although I mainly work behind the scenes and don’t meet patients in person, I’m incredibly proud and happy when a patient is discharged, and their name no longer appears on the samples. Medical science is incredibly inspiring, and we all want the best outcomes for our patients. It’s a privilege to play a part in their Royal Marsden journey.