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Department of Pathology



Pathology is the study of disease—it is the bridge between science and medicine.


It underpins every aspect of 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.



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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. 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 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 in Pathology of 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 in 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.