Today (19 July) is Biomedical Science Day 2018, an event that seeks to raise public awareness of biomedical science, and to promote the vital role of biomedical science staff in delivering healthcare. This year's theme is 'At the heart of healthcare', recognising the vital work biomedical scientists do in producing data in which doctors, consultants and surgeons diagnose their patients.
To mark the awareness day, we interviewed BSH member and biomedical scientist Dr Maria Teresa Esposito on her experiences in the profession. Dr Esposito, also a member of the BSH Communications Committee, speaks about what made her follow a career in biomedical science, offers advice to those looking to move into the profession and explains why it is central to the delivery of healthcare.
What led you to a career in haematology and biomedical science?
I hold a Bachelor and Masters degree in Medical Biotechnologies, and a PhD in gene and stem cell therapy. During my PhD I developed an interest in the mechanisms that transform a healthy bone marrow stem cell into a cancer stem cell and decided to re-train in this field. I joined as a post-doc at the lab of Professor Eric So at King’s College London where I had the opportunity to work on leukemic stem cells and learn in vitro and in vivo models of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). My research led me to identify a new therapeutic approach for patients affected by some forms of AML. Unfortunately, the treatment would not work for all patients affected by AML and in particular for those characterised by mutations affecting the gene KMT2A, that represent a particularly aggressive subgroup. This is my current area of research.
I now hold a position of senior lecturer in biomedical science at the University of Roehampton. I teach cellular, molecular biology and haematology and lead a team of a PhD student and post-doc that applies cell and molecular biology techniques to understand mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance of leukaemia. This research is funded by Leuka through the John Goldman fellowship scheme for translational haematology, the Institute of Biomedical Science and the University of Roehampton.
Why is biomedical science such a vital area of healthcare?
Biomedical science is fundamental for the routine delivery of lab results as well as for the development of new diagnostic and therapeutics. Over 70% of medical decisions are based on lab tests. These tests are run by biomedical scientists that perform all the operations from the pre-analytical stage (checking the sample is correct and preparing it for the test), analytical stage (running the test) and post-analytical stage (analysing the results and running quality controls). Moreover, biomedical scientists working on research contribute to develop new diagnostic tests, i.e. finding new biomarkers for cancer and novel therapeutic approaches i.e. immunotherapy.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in biomedical science?
I would recommend first to reach out for a biomedical scientist to ask about their job to understand if this is something that the candidate might like. The STEM network provides a fantastic opportunity to schools and pupils to connect with STEM professionals, including biomedical scientists. I volunteer as STEM ambassador in careers fairs and I also offer shadowing opportunities in the lab. The path to becoming a biomedical scientist is smoother for those holding a degree in Biomedical Science approved by the Institute of Biomedical Science, as is the one we offer at Roehampton. The following step is to complete a registration portfolio which certifies a year-long laboratory training in a hospital. The completion of the portfolio is essential to register with the HCPC, Health and Care Profession Council and practice as a Biomedical Scientist.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I enjoy the excitement that comes with research. When I am doing an experiment, I cannot wait to see the result and when I see the result for the first time I feel thrilled by the idea that I might be the only one or the first one to know the result.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is juggling my different roles, lecturer, scientist, supervisor, team leader as well as my external roles, for example as a member of the Communications Committee at BSH. I have learnt that the knowledge, technical skills and maniacal attention to detail are fundamental to become a biomedical scientist but the soft skills, the organisational skills, the ability to listen to others, to communicate and motivate your team members and collaborators are essential for career progression.
How do you see biomedical science and haematology changing in the future?
We have been moving towards a full integration of molecular biology and genetics in haematology. Leukemic patients that have gone in remission are monitored thanks to very sensitive molecular techniques such as qPCR, able to detect very few leukemic cells in blood and inform whether or not the patient is at risk of relapse. We hope that new technologies such as high-throughput sequencing will enable to identify rare mutations and identify those leukemic patients that are most likely to benefit from a specific treatment, the so called “personalised medicine”.
What does being a BSH member mean to you?
I feel lucky to be part of an association that has the ambition to be more inclusive and is working hard to give a voice to non-clinical professionals working in haematology, including biomedical scientists, lecturers and nurses. There is a tremendous potential in the collaboration among these professionals.
You can join the Biomedical Science Day celebrations by visiting the Institute of Biomedical Science website and by sending a message of support on Twitter using #BiomedicalScienceDay2018 & #AtTheHeartOfHealthcare
Dr Maria Teresa EspositoSenior Lecturer in Biomedical Science, Univeristy of Roehampton