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Published on 12 October 2016

Dr Andrew Singleton
Dr Andrew Singleton

The head of one of the world's most advanced labs researching neurological disorders will deliver a lecture at the University of Sunderland, where his own career began 20 year ago.

Dr Andrew Singleton has come a long way from the labs of City Campus, where he gained his First Class degree in Applied Physiology 20 years ago. In his role as Chief of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics in Maryland he is leading one of the world's top research teams, tackling neurological diseases, particularly Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Dr Singleton returns to Sunderland next week (Tuesday, 18 October) when he gives a talk, 'Understanding Neurodegenerative Disease: Integrating Big Data' as part of a career event for students at Murray Library Lecture Theatre, City Campus, noon-1pm.

Having graduated from Sunderland in 1995, Andrew's career began with further study, first a PhD at Newcastle University, followed immediately by a move to Florida to work at the Mayo Clinic on the genetics of neurodegenerative diseases. Then in 2001 Dr Singleton moved to Bethesda in Maryland to set up a lab.

"During my first degree I had taken a sandwich placement year, and Prof Pullen set me up with a job in a lab in Newcastle working for the Medical Research Council on the genetics of Alzheimer's disease," he explains. "I went back to this lab after finishing at Sunderland and pursued a PhD in neuroscience."

Now Dr Singleton runs one of the world's most advanced research labs, studying the genetic basis of neurological disorders including Parkinson's disease.  He is a Scientific Advisor for The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, and on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Lewy Body Dementia Association. Among his many awards and honours Dr Singleton has been presented with the Boehringer Mannheim Research Award, the Annemarie Opprecht Award, the National Institute of Health Directors Award, and was the first recipient of the Jay van Andel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Parkinson's Disease Research in 2012.

"I run a research lab at the National Institutes of Health, which is the main US government agency involved in medical research," says Andrew. "My lab studies the basis of a wide variety of neurological diseases.

"I'm incredibly proud of my lab, the people working in it and what we've achieved over the last decade."

There is no doubting Dr Singleton's achievements, and the continued impact of his and his dedicated team's research worldwide, and he is very clear about what it takes to be successful in any career.

"What's served me well is going with my gut," he says. "You have to say 'yes' a lot – and be pathologically persistent."

Dr Singelton still has fond memories of Sunderland, "I remember living in Wearmouth Hall, and then across from the Royalty pub. I particularly remember laughing a lot and making really, really good friends.

"But I do remember the Polytechnic becoming a University, the opening of the new campus over the river. I remember great lecturers like Tony Hood and Bob Pullen, and the enthusiasm with which they taught. It felt like a very supportive place - the faculty wanted you to do well - and for the most part we were all really interested in what we were studying. I am very thankful for the opportunities I had there - and in particular to Bob Pullen for helping me to start my career."