Dr Andrew Singleton, NIH, NIA, IRP

Director of Centre for Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias. BSc Applied Physiology (1995). Honorary Doctorate of Science Award Holder (2017)

Dr Andrew Singleton graduated from the University of Sunderland in 1995 after studying a BSc in Applied Physiology. After relocating to the USA, he went on to become Director of the Center for Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias at the National Institute on Ageing, Maryland, USA, in addition to being Chief of the Molecular Genetics Section within the Laboratory of Neurogenetics. 

Dr. Singleton was a founding member of the International Parkinson’s Disease Genomics Consortium, which has identified the majority of known genetic risk factors for Parkinson’s disease.

Listen to Andrew’s story:

Read the transcript from Andrew’s interview:

Memories of University life.

“I come from a small island called Guernsey. I moved to Sunderland. It was the Polytechnic when I moved there actually in 1991, I guess, yeah, in 1991. And I think it became the University in ‘91 or ‘92, something like that. I remember I was living in Wearmouth Hall at the time. This was all very kind of bizarre to me. I grew up on a tiny little island and never really lived in a city or anything like that. So, Sunderland seemed like a really big city to me. So, it was all kind of overwhelming and exciting. Wearmouth Hall was great fun. I remember there was a bar underneath Wearmouth Hall and that was kind of the hub of our social life. Living above a bar, I had not done that before either, that was pretty awesome. I got to meet tons of people and make really lifelong friends.

I actually started doing a degree in biology and then moved to physiology. I became really, really fascinated by the courses in applied human physiology that were there, and we had really awesome teachers. The professors were fantastic, enthusiastic about what they were talking about and really, really, really inspiring. Of course, there’s always tons of people that touch your life, right? And during that period of time, it’s a time when you’re meeting so many people and learning lots of stuff, not just about science, but about how to be a grown up to a certain degree. And you know, how to pay your bills, don’t get thrown out of your house, get away with things that you shouldn’t be doing. All those kinds of stuff, right?”

A career in genetics.

“Well, genetics is a weird field. When I started doing it, it was all about finding individual causes for disease, so, a mutation that if you carry it causes disease. It’s extremely exciting. So, the way that genetics used to be done was that you would search for a mutation. And it’s literally like looking for a needle in a haystack. And you would look for years and years and years, and you would think you had it many times during that journey, you would think ‘I found it!’, then only to be proven wrong over and over and over and over again. So, 99% of the time you think you have it, you’re wrong. But there’s that moment when you find it and you find this mutation and you know it’s the cause of disease, and you’re the only person in the world that knows what’s causing that disease. That’s awesome. That’s like doing the world’s hardest crossword puzzle and having the answer and, you know, being able to say, ‘Well, I did it!’”.

On Sunderland

“There’s nothing quite like coming home. Do you know what I mean? Coming home and getting a bit of recognition at the same time, as vain as that sounds, it’s really kind of nice. We’re always trying to prove ourselves to the people that we were around thirty years ago or forty years ago, I think, or at least a part of us is. I had been back to Sunderland a year or two or three before that to give a talk. I had happened to be in the area and reached out to the University, and said, ‘Hey, I would love to stop by and see the place’. And I got to give a talk which I really, really enjoyed. And then to get that news a couple of years later, just to say that that I’ve been nominated for (an Honorary Doctorate of Science) that was really awesome. I was really, really touched. It meant an enormous amount to me”.

The growth of the University

“The University’s changed. I felt like it shifted over the river to a certain degree. I spent a day or two wandering around the city. I took enough time to get a University of Sunderland tattoo actually, so I thought that would be a good way to commemorate the Doctorate which I was super proud of. It felt as though the University was moving a bit north or expanding north when I was there thirty years or so ago, that clearly had happened a lot more in the intervening time. I got a tour around the nursing teaching facility in 2017. I was blown away by that. It was all kind of state of the art. In fact, I don’t think it had been used at that point. It had just been built and hadn’t quite been used. And they had all of these simulation rooms where you could simulate emergencies, all that kind of stuff. And at the time it had started or was a fair way into a bid to become a Medical School and to award medical degrees. So, it was really exciting to see that actually, to see that growth. My feeling was that there was a real palpable sense of excitement in the department, the department I was loosely associated with thirty years ago. That kind of morphed and changed over the years. So yeah, it was super cool to see this growth and expansion. The University of Sunderland without question changed my life and in many ways- in many ways and all for the good”.

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