Tributes paid to Professor of Pathology who discovered that cells die
“His work helped to open a new field of study with wide significance in biology and medicine, including particular relevance to cancer”
Award-winning pathologist Professor Andrew Wyllie has died after a long illness.
The father-of-three was part of a team of researchers at the University of Aberdeen who discovered ‘apoptosis’ – the process of cell death. Their seminal work has been credited with ‘opening a new field of study’.
Andrew Wyllie graduated in medicine and science from Aberdeen University in 1975, he became a Fellow of St John’s in 1998, he was a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Academy of Medical Science and the Royal College of Pathologists.
His research focused largely on an internally programmed process of cell death that – with his senior colleagues John Kerr and Alastair Currie – he named apoptosis. Apoptosis is used during early development to eliminate unwanted cells; for example, those between the fingers of a developing hand. In adults, apoptosis is used to rid the body of cells that have been damaged beyond repair.
Apoptosis also plays a critical role in preventing cancer. If apoptosis is for some reason prevented, it can lead to uncontrolled cell division and the subsequent development of a tumour. In Greek, apoptosis translates to the 'falling off' of leaves from a tree.
Professor Steve Edgley, President of St John’s College, Director of Studies in Preclinical Medicine and Professor in Sensorimotor Neuroscience, paid tribute to Professor Wyllie. He said: “His work helped to open a new field of study with wide significance in biology and medicine, including particular relevance to cancer. His papers have been cited thousands of times.
“Andrew was always very student-focused at St John’s and was best known for discovering, with others, a fundamental everyday phenomenon – apoptosis. Apoptosis also plays a critical role in preventing cancer. If apoptosis is for some reason prevented, it can lead to uncontrolled cell division and the subsequent development of a tumour. He won various illustrious awards, and his contribution to science and to scholarship will not be forgotten.”
“Apoptosis also plays a critical role in preventing cancer. If apoptosis is prevented, it can lead to uncontrolled cell division and the subsequent development of a tumour”
For many years, neither 'apoptosis' nor 'programmed cell death' was a highly cited term. Two discoveries brought cell death from obscurity to a major field of research: identification of components of the cell death control and effector mechanisms, and linkage of abnormalities in cell death to human disease, in particular cancer.
In 2011 Professor Wyllie retired from the Chair in Pathology at Cambridge, which he had occupied since 1998. He was a Supervisor in Pathology at St John’s from 1999 to 2008 and continued to be a Fellow in Pathology until 2011. He was an Honorary Consultant at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
Some of the awards he received during his career include: Nature Biotechnology, Miami, 2001 Special Achievement Award, Swedish Pharmaceutical Congress Scheele Award, 2001, Gairdner Foundation International Award, 1999, William Bate Hardy Prize, Cambridge Philosophical Society and the Hans Bloemendal Award, University of Nijmegen, 1996.
Professor Wyllie died at home on Thursday 26 May 2022. He is survived by his wife, three children and grandson. His funeral will take place on 14 June at 2pm at Willingham Baptist Church. Family flowers only. Donations made payable to 'Tools with a Mission UK' may be sent c/o F W Cook Funeral Service, 49 Church Street, Willingham, Cambs, CB24 5HS.