Institute of Genetics and Cancer

Andy Sims, scientist, mentor and teacher; our valued colleague

All at the Institute of Genetics and Cancer were saddened to learn of the untimely death of our colleague Dr Andy Sims: May 2021

Dr Andy Sims

Dr Andrew ‘Andy’ Sims, valued colleague and respected cancer scientist, mentor and teacher, died on Friday May 14th as a result of melanoma. As a University of Edinburgh investigator, Andy applied bioinformatics to the study of cancer. In his own words he was “trying to make sense of lots of data, to improve our understanding of cancer” – and he did this very successfully, leading or contributing to over 100 scientific publications. Some of these changed clinical practice. One of his most recent achievements was demonstrating that publicly available breast cancer gene expression datasets do not accurately reflect the broader patient population and he suggested important solutions to rectify this problem (NPJ Breast Cancer. 2020 Aug 25;6:39).

Andy was a terrific teacher, he mentored many postdoctoral researchers and graduate students throughout his career. He also educated and inspired many future scientists through his public engagement work, in particular highlighting career paths in bioinformatics to high school students. Following his melanoma diagnosis, as well as continuing his own research, Andy devoted time to educate others and raise awareness of cancer, including an event for University staff and students, ‘Shining a Light on Cancer – Living with Melanoma’ on World Cancer Day 2021.

Andy graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a BSc (Hons) in Biological Sciences. His career began as a Research Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Laboratories in Cambridge, characterizing the biodiversity of soil samples, and later as a Clinical Scientist at the Public Health Laboratories at Addenbrooke’s Hospital (Cambridge), where he worked on developing real-time quantitative methods for routine viral diagnostics. Following this, he undertook a PhD project at the University of Manchester in Professor Steve Oliver’s laboratory - performing some of the first microarray experiments and comparative genomic analysis at an exciting time when whole-genome sequences of several species of filamentous fungi were being completed. Six months of his studies were spent at a US biotech company in California (Genencor) studying the secretory pathway and identifying novel proteases. He continued his focus on gene expression profiling, whilst developing his interest in breast cancer, during subsequent postdoctoral research with Professor Tony Howell at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research, Christie Hospital campus, Manchester. Andy conducted a range of applied gene expression profiling studies, specifically examining risk factors and preventative interventions for breast cancer and their effects on patient outcomes.

In June 2008, Andy was recruited to establish bioinformatics in the new Breakthrough Breast Cancer Laboratory, a pioneering role in Edinburgh in which he excelled. In a fast-moving field, he helped and supported many people at all career stages, working in different disease areas. Always enthusiastic, and as a self-effacing real team player, he changed how cancer research was done in Edinburgh. In 2013, he was promoted to Senior Research Fellow and in 2019 was appointed as the first Director of Taught Education and Learning at the MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine (now the Institute of Genetics and Cancer), with remit to enhance and develop teaching from the Institute in collaboration with the Biomedical Teaching Organisation. He taught Precision Oncology on the Biomedical Sciences MSc course, was co-organiser of the Reproductive Cancers elective course and teacher on the Cancer Biology and Medicine elective course for undergraduate students. In 2021, Andy received the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine’s Head of College Staff Recognition Award for Exceptional Service in celebration of his work and the outstanding support he provided to students and colleagues.

Andy Sims was a gentleman, a scientist, a mentor and a teacher who had huge influence on staff and students in our Institute and beyond. Andy was a family man, and he will be sorely missed by all his family and friends, University colleagues and the wider UK and international cancer research communities.

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