The first chairman of the Department of Pathology was Medical Center founder and Medical School Dean George Hoyt Whipple. Under the leadership of Drs. Whipple, Lowell Orbison, Roger Terry, Stanley Patten, Thomas Bonfiglio, Steven Spitalnik, Dean Arvan, and Daniel Ryan, the Department grew from a small (but distinguished) academic and research department into a multi-faceted basic science and clinical enterprise.
The accelerated development of modern patient care laboratories began in the late 1970’s, when testing that was traditionally performed in many different clinical areas was brought under the umbrella of a centralized Hospital laboratory. At this point, the name of the Department was changed from “Pathology” to “Pathology and Laboratory Medicine”. The decades since have seen increasing consolidation, standardization, automation, and utilization of diagnostic tests. The Clinical Laboratories now serve a wide-spread physician population, manage 25 patient service sites, and perform over 5,700,000 tests per year.
A separate unit within the clinical laboratories, Point of Care Testing, was established as standard tests evolved into methods and kits that could be used for bedside testing with immediate results. POCT is responsible for ensuring the effective and regulatory-compliant use of these tests at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
At the same time, the Department has concentrated on maintaining its excellence in the traditional areas of Pathology. It performs about 200 autopsies per year, using the autopsy as a valuable investigative and teaching resource. Department cytopathology faculty were involved in the development of automated screening for cervical cancer and the identification of the papilloma virus. They examine over 66,000 cellular specimens annually and are exploring new methods for obtaining diagnostic information with smaller samples, requiring less invasive procedures, and for a wider variety of tissue types. Surgical pathologists, organized along subspecialty lines, examine about 47,000 tissue specimens each year. With patient consent, some of these become part of a tissue bank to be used for future research.
George Hoyt Whipple shared the 1934 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discovery that liver fed to anemic dogs reversed the effects of the anemia. Today, departmental investigators are working to emulate his talent for careful, critical, and insightful observation, although, with increased understanding of the human genome, there has been a decided shift towards examining disease processes at the molecular level. More than half the faculty currently receive extramural research funding for projects ranging from basic studies of cancer biology to the clinical utility of specific drugs.
The past decade has also seen an increased emphasis on translating knowledge gained in the research laboratory into more effective and more individualized therapies and diagnostic tests. There has led to an increased demand for laboratory services related to clinical trials testing, and the establishment of a separate organization, the URMC Central Laboratories, specifically devoted to investigator needs and regulatory requirements of clinical trials.
Developments in clinical and research laboratories need to be shared with the next generation. Faculty teaching includes the residency training program, post-residency fellowships, the Ph.D. program, postdoctoral fellowships, and medical student required courses and electives. The Department also maintains a long-standing year-out medical student fellowship, with the first student completing the fellowship in 1928, and four students currently participating.