UTHSC, UT Medical Group Form Dermatopathology Lab

Jonathan Devin | Special to The Daily News

A recently launched joint venture between the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) and UT Medical Group will bring an academic touch to the diagnosis of skin diseases.

UT DermPath, a new dermatopathology lab that opened Jan. 1, will give dermatology residents hands-on experience while assisting private clinicians.

“This fulfills the teaching mission for the residency program (at UTHSC),” said Dr. M. Barry Randall, associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at UTHSC, who along with Dr. Kristopher Fisher and Dr. Tejesh Patel, heads UT DermPath.

“The residents can not only see the patients and do a biopsy as indicated, they can also see the histopathology the very next day and review it with one of us,” Randall said.

Dr. Kris Fisher, from left, Dr. T.J. Patel, Grace Swaney, and Dr. M. Barry Randall. (Photo: Courtesy of UT Medical Group)

Fisher and Patel are both assistant professors for the Department of Dermatology at UTSHC and both received their dermatology training as residents of UTHSC. Randall has been on faculty at UTHSC for 10 years.

Other commercial dermatopathology labs exist in Memphis already, but UT DermLab is the only academic lab. Six residents are currently in training at the lab, a 3,200-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility on the UT campus in the medical district.

The lab is certified under federal regulatory requirements known as Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA).

There are also numerous general pathology labs in Memphis, but Patel said there’s a reason for offering services strictly in the realms of skin disease.

“(Dermatopathology) is very specialized, hence, there’s a degree of training that the three of us have gone through in a fellowship and a board exam,” Patel said. “It gives us a higher level of expertise in dealing with skin samples, nails and hair.”

In addition to skin caner, the lab diagnoses cutaneous skin infections from viruses, bacteria and parasites as well as other types of malignant and benign skin tumors.

“There are a whole range of inflammatory skin diseases,” Fisher said. “There are various rashes that we examine and correlate with chronicled information to give the best possible diagnosis to the dermatologist. There’s a wide range of neoplasms, both benign and malignant, that are removed by practitioners which we evaluate.”

Memphis has a higher number of pathology labs than most cities because it is centrally located in the United States and has ready access to courier services like FedEx for shipping samples.

However, Memphis also has a wide stretch of rural communities in the surrounding area, where skin diseases are often left undiagnosed.

“Some of our clinicians see patients from the rural communities and there are some neglected tumors,” Fisher said. “With education getting better about skin cancer, more and more folks in the South are becoming aware that their sun exposure gives them a risk for skin cancers. They’re catching it faster.”

Fisher noted that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

After just three months since the launch, the lab is still growing its business and Randall said they’ve had a very positive response.

“We definitely intend to grow the practice to fulfill another of our missions, which is to help support the dermatology department and the residency program,” Randall said.

He pointed out that the more biopsies the lab receives and examines, the broader the experience of their residents.

The lab also hopes to build solid, friendly relationships with clinicians who send in biopsies. Randall said that pathology labs don’t always have the strongest customer service skills, which is becoming more important as labs compete for market share.

For now, Fisher said, establishing local relationships will be more important for UT DermPath than national ones.

Serving the underserved populations of Memphis and its surrounding areas is also a top priority.

“The most important message is to be aware that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and it is a good idea to get a yearly skin exam by a dermatologist,” Fisher said. “The rate of skin cancer is increasing especially with the aging baby boomer population. Sun moderation is very important.”