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Distinguished Visitor Programme
Prof Andrew H. Wyllie Prof Andrew H. Wyllie
Head of Department and Professor of Pathology, University of Cambridge

Lecture Abstract

10 Jul 2002

"Apoptosis/Programmed Cell Death and Cancer"

The apoptosis story began in 1972, when Prof Wyllie and his colleagues at the University of Aberdeen were puzzling over a mechanism to which most scientists paid little attention. Looking at tissues under an electron microscope, they noticed ordinary cell deaths look quite different from cell deaths caused by acute injuries. Injured cells tend to swell up and burst, spilling their contents and causing neighbouring cells to swell. This is called necrosis, a process that triggers an immune reaction and inflammation. But when cells died "normal" deaths, they shrivelled up and were consumed by nearby cells so fast they never got a chance to spill their contents. They named their discovery apoptosis, a word used in a Homeric poem that means falling off, as in leaves from a tree.

Prof. Wyllie's work focuses on the crucial balance between cell growth and death, and the disruption of that balance through aberrant regulation of apoptosis. Failure to engage programmed cell death contributes to diseases such as cancer, autoimmune disorders and systemic viral infection, while excessive apoptosis can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases and other problems.

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