The Pathologist

Jeanne Bell examines the brains of people who have died. She is looking for signs of drug abuse and investigating how diseases affect the brain.

I am a pathologist working on the effects of diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C, and drug abuse, on the brain. I am also interested in what can go wrong with the brain when it is developing.

‘I love solving mysteries.’

My ‘brain banks’ hold donated brain tissue samples from hospital and post mortem examinations. I often talk with families to request tissue donation from their deceased relatives. Sometimes they approach me to arrange a donation. Special ethics committees give permission for the samples to be used in research.

In my office there is a microscope, a camera and computers. The room is next to the pathology laboratories in a hospital where I go every day – I receive brain biopsies from the neurosurgeons to process in the lab. I also perform post mortem examinations on patients who have died with a neurological disorder or look at brains which have been kept by colleagues from forensic post mortem examinations.

My research is helping scientists to understand brain diseases and to plan treatments or, even better, prevention. I also want to know about the effects of therapeutic drugs. I often write scientific papers, and I teach and train younger members of staff. Sometimes I have to go to court to appear as an expert witness – this involves a great deal of preparation.

I enjoy making a rare diagnosis, doing a good presentation, comforting a family in their bereavement and having a scientific paper accepted for publication or a grant proposal funded. I love solving mysteries, such as the cause of death. I don’t like having too many interruptions in my work, but sometimes they’re unavoidable.

Jeanne Bell, professor in pathology, University of Edinburgh

To contact Jeanne, or any of the othe scientists featured here, please email

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