The Discipline of Molecular and Cellular Pathology is headed by Professor Sunil Lakhani and encompasses teaching into the medical program and research into understanding the mechanisms of disease. Pathology uses morphological and ancillary techniques to evaluate the structure and function of cells and tissues in order to understand disease processes. This helps pathologists make accurate diagnoses of disease and hence, advise on appropriate patient management.

Location and facilities

  • State of the art teaching facilities including the Integrated Pathology Learning Centre (IPLC) Level 6 of the Health Sciences Building, on the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital (RBWH) and Level 2 in the Translational Research Institute (TRI) at the Princess Alexandra Hospital
  • A research laboratory is based in the UQ Centre for Clinical Research on the RBWH campus; offering clinical and research expertise and cutting edge facilities for high quality translational research.
  • Students can undertake an elective within the Anatomical Pathology Department at the RBWH, linking with the research group in the UQ Centre for Clinical Research.
  • There are also opportunities for students to undertake Honours, Masters or PhD research projects with the group.

Teaching activities

Our staff teach across both phases of the medical program.

In Phase 1, we provide students with a core understanding of how the body responds to injury, including the key pathological processes of inflammation, healing, neoplasia, thrombosis, embolism and infarction. An understanding of these processes is at the core of good medical practice. As they progress in the phase, students are challenged to apply their understanding of those processes to all key body systems, and to gain a better understanding of disease at both a macroscopic and microscopic level. Teaching strategies in Phase 1 are built around a series of interactive tutorials that occur on site at our hospital teaching centres. These tutorials, led by academics and hospital-based pathology staff, make use of the extensive collection of pathology specimens available within the Integrated Pathology Learning Centre at Herston and its satellite centre at PA-Southside Clinical School.  The Discipline uses state of the art educational technology tools such as Slice. Students in this phase are required to actively develop their knowledge of pathology through exploration of online lectures, participation in symposia, and through virtual microscopy laboratories at the St Lucia campus.

In Phase 2, students are able to undertake an elective within the discipline, and gain a better understanding of the role of pathology in patient care through participation in Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) meetings, and through engagement with pathology services in the course of their clinical clerkships. 

Research activities

The Molecular Pathology Laboratory is based at UQ Centre for Clinical Research (UQCCR) and is headed by Professor Sunil Lakhani and Dr Peter Simpson. The overall objective of the group is to utilise molecular techniques (genomic, transcriptional profiling, protein based analysis) in conjunction with traditional pathological data to extend the understanding of disease processes and hence provide information to aid patient management in the field of cancer. Questions arising from clinical practice within the Breast Unit at The Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital are brought into the laboratory for investigation with the hope of translating the information derived back to the clinic for practical use in making patient related decisions.

Research resources

Much of the research undertaken by the group is based on clinical samples acquired from surgeries performed at the RBWH. These samples include retrospective, archival cohorts with long term clinical follow up or fresh frozen samples prospectively collected by the Brisbane Breast Bank, a tissue bank developed in 2005 through collaboration between Pathology Queensland, The Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital and UQ. We also rely on numerous external collaborations to enable the study of special subtypes of disease.

Research focus areas 

1. Multi-step Model of Tumour Development: Mammographic screening programs are identifying a large number of ‘precancerous’ lesions which pathologists find difficult to classify as their natural history is unknown. The lab is investigating different lesions, either seen incidentally or via the screening program and is trying to understand whether the differing radiological manifestations are reflected at the morphological and molecular level and whether we can identify features to predict if the patient is at risk of the disease progressing to invasive cancer. The lab has also previously demonstrated that genetic changes identified in pre-invasive lesions are also seen in apparently normal breast tissue. So we are interested in understanding  the frequency and significance of such changes in normal tissues and trying to identify and understand the role of normal and cancer associated stem cells in the development of breast cancer and its heterogeneity.

2. The Molecular Characterisation of Special Types of Breast Cancer: according to the World Health Organisation Classification of Tumours of the Breast, there are at least 17 different histological types of breast cancer. In fact breast cancer is even more diverse than this when we consider the molecular heterogeneity of the disease. We have a program of work investigating several of special subtypes of breast, for example metaplastic carcinomas, invasive lobular carcinomas, and tumours arising in the context of a familial predisposition. The research seeks to improve our understanding of tumour classification, behaviour, prognosis and the carcinogenic pathways that underlie the development of these tumours.

3. Understanding Mechanisms of Tumour Progression to Metastasis: Most patients who die from breast cancer do so due to the metastatic spread of disease to distant sites in the body, such as the lung, liver, bones or brain. The mechanisms of tumour spread to these sites are largely unknown, although we do understand that tumour cells must evolve during this process of progression in order to resist toxic effects of therapy and to grow in a new microenvironment. We have a program of work investigating metastasis to distant sites, with a particular emphasis on spread to the brain, with a view to developing novel treatment strategies


Professor Sunil Lakhani
Head, Discipline of Molecular and Cellular Pathology
 +61 7 3346 6052
Address: Level 6, UQCCR, The Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital