Molecular Diagnostics Unit

Female healthcare professional looking through microscope

The Molecular Diagnostics Unit, in the Cell and Molecular Biology Laboratory, was set up in September 2012 with the aim of initiating translational research with a particular focus on human pathogen identification.

The laboratory is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities that include a fluorescence activated cell sorter, microscopes, multiple real time and digital PCR instruments, spectrophotometers and tissue culture facilities. It is staffed by molecular and cell biologists that specialise in nucleic acid and protein research and collaborate with a world-wide network of researchers, clinicians and industry partners.

The Molecular Diagnostics Unit has three areas of interest.

  1. Detection of pathogens with a particular focus on fungi. We are developing both nucleic acid- and protein-based detection methods for the early and accurate detection of fungi associated with human diseases such as aspergillosis and candidiasis. This work is carried out in collaboration with academic and commercial organisations in the UK, Sweden and the USA. A second interest concerns the development of novel diagnostic tests targeting nosocomial infections, especially those associated with Clostridium difficile.
  2. Identification of predictive biomarkers for improved selection of patients for anti-cancer treatment as well as development of molecular assays for intraoperative assessment of lymph nodes. Our focus is on colorectal and breast cancers and the work is carried out in close collaboration with local NHS trusts.
  3. Standardisation of real time and digital PCR protocols. We are at the forefront of global collaborative efforts to improve the transparency of reporting of PCR-based experiments and have established an international network of partners aiming to establish appropriate guidelines for publication in the peer-reviewed literature.

In addition, we offer projects leading to MSc, MD or PhD degrees and act as a host for biomedical researchers participating in international fellowship schemes.

Current research

We have developed immune-PCR as well as homogeneous and solid phase proximity ligation assays for the detection of actively growing, i.e. invasive Aspergillus. These assays are significantly more sensitive than the tests currently used, allowing an earlier diagnosis than possible now. The introduction of digital PCR-based detection methods also allows precise quantification of viral load, making it possible to assess fungal loads repeatedly, reliably and rapidly. These assays are now being extended to include other fungal species, especially Candida and Scedosporium.

We have also developed new multiplex real time PCR-based assays for the rapid and inexpensive identification of individual Candida species. These are currently being prepared for inclusion in commercial kits and will provide clinicians with reliable diagnostic information to guide their treatment decisions.

In collaboration with Dr Vasi Sundaresan (Princess Alexandra Hospital Harlow) we have validated the use of an intraoperative RT-PCR test for the detection of breast cancer metastases in lymph nodes. This ability to diagnose metastatic disease empowers the surgeon to consider axillary clearance as a one-step procedure.

Using mass spectrometry and proteomic analysis we have identified several protein that are involved in metastasis of triple negative breast tumours and proteins and pathways that may predict the response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy in breast cancer patients. This has been in in collaboration with Prof Serhiy Souchelnytskyi at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden and Dr Metodi Metodiev at Essex University, UK. We are also working in collaboration with Dr Alexandra Porter at Imperial University, London to develop nanoparticles as targeted therapeutics in triple negative breast cancers.

We continue to lead international efforts to improve the quality and transparency of publications in the field of biomedical research. This is resulting in a continuous stream of publications as well as invitations to deliver keynote addresses at international conferences, with over 30 delivered in 2014/15 alone.

Links to research papers

Recent publications in new journals

Key members of staff

Prof Stephen Bustin

Support staff

Dr Sara Kirvell
Dr Gemma Johnson

Current research students

Harvinder Dhillon Singh, PhD, Use of Proximity ligation assay in the detection of C.difficile infections.
Omya Fekry, PhD, Renal injury/cytotoxicity in Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) use
You Yone, MD, Molecular biomarkers to predict response to Avastin and XELOX therapy in metastatic Colorectal Cancer (mCRC).
Whitney Chow, MD, Use of tranexamic acid and Peak plasma blade in DIEP/MS-TRMA breast reconstruction.

Where to find more information

Contact details

Professor Stephen Bustin
0845 196 3570

Cell and Molecular Biology Laboratory
Faculty of Medical Sciences
Anglia Ruskin University
Bishop Hall Lane
Chelmsford CM1 1SQ