Nurse in PPE in The Royal Marsden's new cellular therapy laboratory

The Royal Marsden's new cellular therapy laboratory

The Royal Marsden’s pathology team plays a crucial role in diagnosing disease, planning treatments and monitoring patients’ health during their cancer pathway. This year, the team has led a major project to create capacity for COVID-19 testing and to upgrade laboratory facilities. These ensure that, even amid the pandemic, our pathologists can continually find ways to improve patient care.

Cellular therapy lab

The cellular therapy laboratory supports more than 400 donations a year to provide stem cells for around 200 transplants for cancer patients. The lab team processes cells in an ultra-clean environment to ensure that they remain sterile, preserving their quality while they are stored for up to 10 years.

A new modular clean room with a specialist design means that the facility will be able to meet the stringent regulatory requirements that govern this sector, while providing additional space to enable more transplants and a better working environment for staff.

“Cellular therapies offer fantastic treatment options for many patients,” says Dr Janet Wells, the laboratory’s head. “It’s wonderful to have this new facility, which means we can improve and expand our service.”

Immunophenotyping

The immunophenotyping team tests patients’ blood and bone marrow samples to diagnose blood cancers and assess their response to treatment. To detect sub-microscopic levels of disease, it’s vital that equipment is up to date and reliable.

The Royal Marsden now houses one of the first laboratories in the UK to have flow cytometry analysers capable of looking at up to 15 characteristics in each cell. They give more accurate results, but the vast volumes of data have also meant upgrading computers and software. This increased automation allows the team to test more patients, with scientists spending more time on analytical work.

“This year, we’ve literally changed everything we do while maintaining the service,” says Alan Dunlop, Head of Immunophenotyping. “With the new system, we’re able to give clinical teams better information about how patients have responded, so it will have real benefits for patient care.”

This new facility means we can improve and expand our service.

The new facilities for immunophenotyping
The new facilities for immunophenotyping (above)

Microbiology

The COVID-19 pandemic put huge pressure on The Royal Marsden’s microbiology services. This laboratory is responsible for screening patients for infections before they’re admitted, or if they’re unwell.

Charity donations have enabled the Trust to purchase two Cepheid analysers: one in Sutton, and one in Chelsea, which was made possible thanks to a United Way Worldwide grant to The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity on behalf of the generosity of The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation. They can provide COVID-19 test results in as little as two hours – essential for urgent admissions.

The department also moved to refurbished laboratories in the McElwain Building and benefited from a new PCR molecular testing facility.

The new labs will allow bulk COVID-19 testing in-house, with the team processing around 3,500 tests a week. They’ll also be able to do more molecular testing on site. Faster turnaround and increased accuracy will potentially mean patients can be given targeted therapies more quickly.

Gail Gardner, Microbiology Manager, says: “Gerry Vella and the Estates team transformed a virtually derelict building into these bright, light, superclean laboratories. We can’t praise Gerry and his team enough.”