Molecular Pathology

What is the Molecular Pathology definition?

Molecular Pathology is a sub-field of Pathology. Molecular Pathologists apply molecular biology technologies (such as PCR or sequencing) to investigate diseased tissue or organs to identify and quantify disease markers. Based on their results, a diagnosis can be made and the optimal treatment can be identified. Typically, molecular pathologists are closely working with anatomical pathologist to integrate molecular analysis with morphological analysis. The combined approach will provide a more comprehensive picture and will allow to make a well-informed diagnosis.

In addition, Molecular Pathology is also working in research to develop novel biomarkers to be then able to make more accurate diagnoses for certain diseases, especially for the diverse types of cancer.

“We appreciate the resistant MMI product quality, the professional consulting, and the competent and quick service. MMI instruments are an important basis for our in-situ analysis in cellular tissue. Laser microdissection followed by gene expression analysis is complementary for further routine methods like conventional optical microscopy (fluorescence), in-situ hybridization, and immunohistochemistry.

The MMI CellScan supports us in our daily work: this tool documents our tissue sections in high resolution and it fully integrates in our laser microdissection workflow. We especially appreciate that we can annotate directly in the image thus saving hands-on time at the instrument.”

Prof. Dr. med. Danny D. Jonigk FRCPath Pathological Institute
Hannover Medical School
Hanover, Germany

What is the difference from Digital Pathology?

Pathology in general evaluates tissue sections based on morphology, and based on specific staining technologies to detect the abundance and distribution of certain marker genes or mutations across the tissue sections to make a diagnosis. In Digital Pathology, digital slides are analyzed at the PC and by employing software tools, instead of inspecting tissue sections under the microscope.

In contrast, Molecular Pathology is interested to obtain comprehensive molecular information of a certain tissue area, such as genomic information on cancer mutations to understand molecular pathogenesis, to discover novel biomarkers and to apply these biomarker sets to identify the type of disease. Molecular Pathology can thus help to verify diagnoses and to refine treatment options together with traditional anatomic pathology.

How and where is Molecular Pathology being applied currently?

Molecular Pathology methods are being applied in the clinics as well as in research.

In diagnostic Molecular Pathology labs, several Molecular Pathology techniques are used to make an individual diagnosis and to allow for personalized medicine treatments. Especially in oncology, these treatments are more effective and at the same time have less side-effects than chemotherapeutics. In addition, several biomarkers can also be predictive for certain treatments as well as for the prognosis. To be able to benefit from personalized medicine, Molecular Genetic Pathology needs to identify novel biomarkers which are specific to a certain disease. These marker genes will then be exploited in Molecular Pathology procedures for a more accurate diagnosis and thus for individual treatment and for prognosis.

Oncology labs and the clinics are working closely together with Molecular Pathology laboratories since the clinics have access to patient samples, whereas Molecular Pathology and oncology labs have the technologies and the experience in cellular and Molecular Pathology to identify, develop and test novel biomarkers. The clinics will then be able to treat patients with very specific drugs fitting to their set of marker genes and mutation profile.

Molecular Pathology is not only limited to tissue sections but is also being applied on liquid biopsies, such as blood samples. Especially in cancer research, Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs) are isolated to identify novel biomarkers and to diagnose the tumor type. CTCs are also investigated as their abundance is suggested to play an important role for the prognosis.

How can the technology provided by MMI help me in my Molecular Pathology workflow?

Molecular Pathology laboratories are often confronted with highly heterogeneous sample, such as heterogeneous tumor tissue. To be able to obtain meaningful results and to be able to make a diagnosis, the sample needs to be enriched for the cell type to be further investigated. MMI therefore offers the MMI CellCut laser microdissection system to selectively isolate single cells or tissue areas to obtain a pure sample prior to molecular analysis.

In addition, MMI offers the MMI CellScan which can be combined with laser microdissection to integrate Whole Slide Imaging into the Molecular Pathology workflow. Therefore, the pathologist can save hands-on time and focus on the steps which requires his experience, namely to analyze the slides and to combine image analysis with the results from Molecular Pathology.

Moreover, Liquid Biopsy samples can be used in Molecular Pathology for diagnosis and for research projects. The MMI CellEctor is able to selectively pick single CTCs from enriched suspensions. Specific markers can help to identify the CTCs among other cells. In addition, the MMI CellExplorer is able to detect CTCs based on fluorescent markers and to automatically transfer the selected cells to the MMI CellEctor for subsequent isolation. The CTCs can then be employed for molecular downstream applications, such as genomic, transcriptomic or proteomic analysis, as well as for diagnosis.

Intriguingly, all MMI systems can be flexibly combined and integrated on one microscopy platform. This customized tool can then be applied for various sample types and workflow options thus meeting the high demands of modern Molecular Pathology laboratories.

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