Heroes of Pathology

Pathology in the 21st Century – why do we need heroes?

Heroes occupy a remarkable place in western culture. We are inspired by our sporting heroes, Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon, Usain Bolt’s remarkable ‘double triple’ in the 100, 200 and 4x100 metres, Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France and Oxford blues in the men’s coxless fours. We relive our experience as spectators in the retelling of epic confrontations and hard fought battles – where were you when Jonny Wilkinson kicked the winning drop-goal in the 2004 World Cup Final? How good did it feel to watch Freddy Flintoff bowling out the Aussies?

But is sporting heroism just a modern day manifestation of heroism on the battlefield? Our earliest surviving literature portrays the heroism of great warriors, Achilles, Ajax and Hector in the Trojan War and Beowolf’s epic confrontation with Grendel. The current Hollywood craze for superhero movies is built on the notion that heroes are unassuming people just like us who in their superhero guises single-handedly save the world before returning to their mundane day jobs (eccentric millionaire playboy, cub reporter, college tutor etc).

So why do we need scientific heroes? Is the idea of scientific heroes even valid? Many argue that science should be seen as a process that arises from competing and collaborating teams of scientists studying fundamental properties of the natural world. In the modern era of biomedical science can we identify certain scientists who have single-handedly changed the way we think about scientific problems or developed techniques that have allowed us to discover previously unimagined treasures, be they antibiotics, monoclonal antibodies, dendritic cells or Higgs bosons?

In the same way that sports fans hope the remarkable achievements of Team GB at the Olympics will inspire young athletes to strive for excellence in their chosen sport, we hope that sharing the scientific achievements of our own personal “Heroes of Pathology” will inspire you to read more deeply into the primary scientific literature, to think more critically about the mechanisms of disease and hopefully one day make your own contribution to the collective scientific endeavour.

We hope that you will be inspired by your study of pathology this term

David Greaves & Christoph Tang