Prof Andrew David Hamilton Wyllie

The son of a doctor (Physician Superintendent, Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen), and younger brother of two other Aberdeen University Alumni (one a medical graduate and the other a science graduate),  Andrew Wyllie was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School (1947-1960) and then studied Medicine at Aberdeen University, obtaining an intercalated science degree during his medical studies.

After registration, he was a lecturer in the Department of Pathology in Aberdeen and had an MRC fellowship in London (1970-72), before following Professor Currie (later Sir Alastair Currie) to Edinburgh, where he was a Lecturer in Pathology between 1972 and 1975. After a Cancer Research Campaign Fellowship in Cambridge the following year, he returned to Edinburgh as Senior Lecturer in 1977, and thereafter was Professor of Experimental Pathology in Edinburgh University (1992-1998). He subsequently became the Professor of Pathology and Head of Department at Cambridge University from 1998 to 2011, when he was also an Honorary consultant pathologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. He was elected a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1999.

In 1972, while working with electron microscopy with Professor Currie and Dr John Kerr (later Professor Kerr) in Aberdeen, they recognised the phenomenon of natural cell death. In consultation with the Professor of Classics at the University, they called this process “apoptosis” (from the use of the word in an ancient Greek poem where it referred to “falling off” as in leaves from a tree). Thereafter, continuing research demonstrated the fundamental role of apoptosis in significant and widespread areas of cellular biology, including embryo development, maintenance of adult tissues with normal cell turnover, immunological and toxicological reactions, and, critically, tumour growth and regression. He continued to work on apoptosis for the remainder of his career, collecting many international awards for his work, leading studies relating to the regulation of apoptosis and the function of genes which regulate tumour development and growth. His researches, in enhancing the comprehension of apoptosis, have thus had enormous implications for human health and disease and, in particular, cancer.

Biography prepared from the nomination by Prof J H K Grieve and Dr John W Grant made to the University of Aberdeen 525 Alumni project.