Interview Prof. Paul Hofman
5 July 2018
Next-generation sequencing has enabled unprecedented advances in oncology: personalized therapies are becoming possible, pathologists have gained unparalleled insights into the nature of tumors, and artificial intelligence can arrive at reliable diagnosis based on the immense data created by sequencing. Prof. Paul Hofman, a pathologist at the University of Côte d’Azur, France, wonders if doctors like him will even be needed in the future. We visited him at Nice Hospital.
Do all these new approaches mean that the era of glass slides and microscopes in pathology is over, Prof. Hofman?
PROF. PAUL HOFMAN: No, the key is integration. There is not just one single tool in the future of cancer therapy. We need everything. Liquid biopsy, histology, bio-pathology, sequencing, clinical data, behavior, microbiome, etc., and yes, old-fashioned tissue samples under the microscope
What challenges do you face in your everyday work?
On the one hand, the multitude of methods gives us completely new possibilities, but they are also limited by one factor: the amount of sample material. Sometimes we have only a few hundred tumor cells for evaluation, so we cannot do one test after the other, because there simply is not enough material. Molecular biological technologies such as NGS are the only proven means to obtain answers from such small amounts of starting material.
What about communication with the attending physicians - are you in direct contact with them?
You speak to another gap. The link between pathology and diagnosis must be made narrower. Pathology is the hotspot for everything, and I do not say that because I am a pathologist myself. But we need, for example, the clinical data to help guide our choice of analytical method, because the suitability of a method of analysis also depends on whether the patient is a young nonsmoker or a retiree of 70 who has smoked for many years.