skip to content

Department of Pathology



Our Department is a bridge between research and medicine.


Our work underpins patient care, from diagnostic testing and treatment advice to using cutting-edge genetic technologies and preventing illness and disease.


Researchers in pathology support every aspect of healthcare, from guiding doctors on the right way to treat common diseases to using cutting-edge genetic technologies to treat patients with life-threatening conditions.

The study of pathology plays a critical role in research, advancing medicine and devising new treatments to fight viruses like COVID-19, infections and diseases like cancer.

Our Department of Pathology is one of the largest departments in the School of Biological Sciences.



Head of Department



Professor Geoffrey Smith FRS FMedSci FRSB
Professor of Pathology

Professor Smith is a virologist and medical research authority in the area of Vaccinia virus and the family of Poxviruses. He has been Head of the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge since 2011. He is also a Principal Research Fellow of the Wellcome Trust.

His research team studies the vaccinia virus; the vaccine used to eradicate smallpox and the interactions between this virus and the host cell and immune system. Areas of research include investigation of how vaccinia virus suppresses the innate immune response to infection, how individual virus proteins contribute to virus virulence and immunogenicity, how safer and more immunogenic vaccines can be designed, and how vaccinia virus exploits microtubule- and actin-based transport to enable transport of virions within and between cells. In addition, the vaccinia virus is being exploited as a tool to study the function of cell proteins and how these restrict the replication or spread of viruses or how they activate the immune response to infection.


Find out more here.




Find out more about our department



Undergraduate study with us 

Postgraduate study with us




History of the Department

Pathology has been studied at the University of Cambridge for almost 140 years.

In 1883 Charles Roy was appointed the first Chair in Pathology and led this new academic field. He was succeeded in 1897 by the scholarly Alfredo Kanthack, who had been his Deputy. Kanthack was young (just 34 when he took the Chair) but already carried an international reputation and had eclectic interests - phagocytosis, snakebite venoms, tetanus, thyroglossal cysts, and football. The use of formalin as a histological fixative is credited to him.

He was succeeded by German Sims Woodhead—who housed the department in the new Medical School (now a part of the Zoology buildings) and created a new course and examination in Pharmacology and Pathology had become an essential part of undergraduate medical education, colloquially referred to as "Bugs and Drugs".

Henry Roy Dean, who - in his phenomenally long reign from 1922 to 1961 - moved the Department to our current building on Tennis Court Road and at the rear of the old Addenbrooke's Hospital, and set up teaching in the principles of Pathology in the second and third undergraduate years that evolved into our present veterinary, natural science and preclinical medical Tripos courses. One of his staff, Ronald Greaves, developed reliable methods for freeze-drying plasma, the process now known as lyophilisation, which saved many lives during the Second World War. Greaves held the Chair from 1962 to 1975.

There followed the much-loved Peter Wildy. By this time Pathology as a subject had diversified to many subspecialties: immunology, virology, bacteriology, parasitology and cellular pathology, and the dehiscence of the basic science and medical diagnostic aspects of these subjects were already evident in many centres in the UK. Wildy was a virologist interested in the biology of herpes simplex, but he gathered a team of able colleagues who represented the whole spectrum of Pathology, and he succeeded in keeping the Department in Cambridge together, unlike the situation in most other UK Universities at that time, and despite movement of around a third of the staff to the new Addenbrooke's site, three miles south of Tennis Court Road. Many of those he appointed to form the backbone of the Department's senior staff today, whilst others lead major Departments elsewhere.

Malcolm Ferguson-Smith, a distinguished medical geneticist from Glasgow, held the Chair from 1987 to 1998. He emphasised the importance of Pathology in the analysis of the genome and so positioned the Department well for the 21 st Century. He also established medical genetics as a thriving clinical discipline in East Anglia and spawned the new University Department of that name within the Clinical School. In his last year as the Chair of Pathology, he was co-opted by the Government to the team of three that led the inquiry into the causes of the BSE epidemic.