Ivo Silva is a scientific support officer in the molecular rare diseases team at Cambridge Genomics Laboratory. Here he tells us more about working in the genomics laboratory and what his role as a scientific support officer entails.
Genomics describes how our complete set of DNA can be used to understand, and find cures for, diseases. It is an ever-expanding field of work and very interesting to be part of.
Scientific Support Officers (SSOs) support the Clinical Scientists in the Genomic Laboratory. I work within the Rare Diseases team; other SSOs support Solid Cancer and Haematology/Oncology.
The SSO is a new career pathway. It gives people like me the opportunity to work alongside Clinical Scientists and gain relevant experience. We are part of a team that deals with both diagnostic and familial testing.
There are four SSOs in my team and I rotate between three main areas of work:
- Duty Scientist Support – we are responsible for assigning the type of prep test needed for a sample and checking whether it’s appropriate for the test that has been requested. We work alongside the duty scientist and make sure that the appropriate communication goes out to the referring clinician. We also play an important part in processing urgent pharmacogenomic tests (called DPYD tests) for patients having cancer treatment.
- Send outs – if samples need to be tested at another laboratory, we ensure that the necessary volume of the correct sample is sent to the appropriate location. We review and ensure testing criteria are met, according to the National Genomic Test Directory (which specifies which tests are commissioned by the NHS).
- Whole genome sequencing (WGS) referrals – if a clinician has requested WGS for a patient we ensure that everything is done correctly. We check that the clinical indication and gene testing panels are appropriate and that the referring location is within our catchment area. We also look at more specific information, such as the quality and quantity of the sample to make sure it’s sufficient to perform the test.
My typical day depends upon which area I am rostered into. It’s vital to have accurate records of all the testing that’s taking place with the correct supporting paperwork so I spend a lot of time communicating with clinicians, other laboratories and scientists.
There are always new tests coming up; the National Genomic Directory has to be updated regularly so everything is happening around you. More tests mean we can provide more patient-focussed care, such as medication based on an individual’s genetic make-up; this will help to manage their condition and prognosis.
There is a real need for more people who want to pursue scientific careers within the NHS.
The SSO role is still very new so different career pathways are being created to get into it. There are currently four SSOs within the rare diseases team. We have a nice camaraderie – we are all very easy going individuals.
My job is ever evolving and it would be a good role for anyone thinking of a scientific career and who is interested in genomics within the NHS. There is a lot of admin that requires good scientific knowledge. You also need to have great attention to detail, be motivated, and flexible.
Potential applicants will need a core scientific degree (biology, chemistry etc.) or similar and experience within healthcare.
Since becoming an SSO, my genomic knowledge has greatly increased.
I’m really aware of the importance of genomics to our patients. One result could have far-reaching effects, not only for an individual patient but for their immediate family, as well as more distant relatives.
Every day is a career highlight for me. The job can be stressful but having a positive attitude goes a long way, especially when you know that patients are anxious about their results. We can help to make sure that a clinician gets their query answered and give them something to take back to the patient. Little things make me feel appreciated – like an email thanking me for following up on a sample.