ACS celebrates and remembers Andrew Mitchell

Dr Andrew John Mitchell, PhD

27/12/1970 to 22/12/2021

Dear ACS Community and Friends,

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Andrew Mitchell, a friend and colleague to many in the Australasian cytometry community.

On Wednesday the 22nd of December 20021 Andrew lost his battle with Multiple Myeloma. In true Andrew style, although some of us were aware he was unwell, very few knew the extent of his illness.

Professionally Andrew was trained as an Immunologist, submitting his honours thesis entitled “Sources of TNF-alpha in the neonatal gut” through UNSW in 1992, before going on to receive his PhD in the discipline of immunology in 2002. During his PhD Andrew worked as a casual cytometry operator at the UNSW Cell Analysis Facility. During this time Andrew trained on the MoFlo cell sorter, an instrument which requires true technical mastery and a skill that is becoming all too rare.

Following his formal education Andrew spent time at the University of Sydney, Apollo Life Sciences, the Centre d’immunologie de Marsille-Luminy, and the Centenary Institute, where he worked on Malaria, drugs to cross the blood brain barrier, meningitis and S. aureus infection.

Following more than 12 years as a post doctoral researcher, Andrew returned to a support role in the Ramaciotti Facility for Human Systems Biology before moving to Melbourne to take up the role of Academic specialist in Mass Cytometry where his skills, expertise and welcoming helpful nature touched the lives and careers of many scientists.

Known to many in the ACS community as a light hearted and friendly character, Andrew was always willing to help. Even after his diagnosis he volunteered to sit on the ACS council and was a big part of the Australasian Cytometry Society and Cytometry in general. Andrew’s scientific expertise was acknowledged and sought after nationally and indeed internationally. An esteemed member of the International Society for the Advancement of Cytometry, Andrew presented his work to the benefit of scientists all around the globe, and his legacy in the field will be long lasting.

Despite his many accomplishments in the field of science, he was not defined by these achievements. A lover of nature and never one to shirk a good walk, Andrew spent many days in New Zealand Alpine Club (NZAC) huts and weeks climbing and mountaineering in New Zealand. He would even often walk to work at USYD, even though this journey took him not past the vista of a New Zealand mountainside, but through back city lanes and across crowded city streets.

– ACS Council

I met Andrew Mitchell when I started a position as Manager of the Cellular Analysis Facilty (CAF) on the 19th of October, 1998. The CAF was already a year or two old, the people in the photo below are:  Andrew Collins (RHS), Margaret Cooley Middle LHS), both lecturers at UNSW, Andrew Mitchell (PhD student) (LHS back), & Kim Nguyen (Technical Officer) (LHS front).

The primary instrument in the CAF was the MoFlo MLS #00003, the first of its kind to be installed in Australia. Then there was a Compucyte Laser Scanning Cytometer, (a greatly misunderstood instrument with huge potential), and a small confocal microscope system.  I knew absolutely nothing about flow cytometry (I came from a EM & Histo background), I got the job because I had got a reputation for making labs work. Andrew Mitchell was the person who taught me how flow worked.

Flow cytometry, in 1998, was excitingly new & challenging.  It seemed everything was there to be discovered.  The motto in the CAF was to say “yes” first and work out the details later.

MoFlo #00003 was state-of-the-art, 2 laser (air-cooled 488nm & water cooled UV), 6 colour (4 off the 488, 2 off the UV), and the fastest cell sorter in the country.  Everything was hands-on, nothing was automated, initially drop delay required a micrometer, pencil, paper, & sometimes a calculator.  The MoFlo was almost organic, at irregular but fairly frequent intervals it would be upgraded, modified, improved, making it easier, but inviting more challenges.  By the time I left the CAF the MoFlo was 3 laser (water-cooled multiline argon laser, water-cooled UV laser, & a red diode laser), and could handle 8 or 9 colours.

Andrew ended up doing more than his PhD, during the period I ran the CAF, we had the Giardia outbreak in Sydney (Changed the primary laser on the MoFlo from 488nm to 514.5nm), we played around with cytometry techniques to observe different reagents ‘detonating’ granulocytes (MoFlo & LSC), we ran the MoFlo at its absolute limits sorting CRC4 cells.  We sorted and analysed for the Garvan Institute, Johnson & Johnson research, and a host of external entities.

As part of the Microbiology & Immunology Department, we analysed & sorted a very wide assortment of samples including, bacteria, fungi, Giardia, mouse & rat blood and macerated tissue, human blood & macerated tissue, and porcine foetal cells.  Sometimes all in the same day.  The days were as organic as the MoFlo a 10hr day was often average, and 14 was not unknown.

I do know that towards the end of his PhD, Andrew could only get time on the MoFlo at weekends, I remember spending time talking him through various unique issues will sitting on the front step at home in Gosford.

Although Andrew had a great deal of understanding of the mechanics of flow cytometry his true passion was always in biological research.  I was the mechanic, Andrew the biologist.

A good friend, someone who would always lend a helping hand, & I miss him.

Rob Wadley

3 thoughts on “ACS celebrates and remembers Andrew Mitchell”

  1. So sorry to hear of Andrew’s passing.
    Great guy and I, and I’m sure many others, are truly saddened by his passing.

  2. Andrew Mitchell
    Andrew had two postdoctoral periods in my laboratory, and I and those who were his lab contemporaries were terribly upset to hear of his passing. As well as being a flow cytometry guru, Andrew was an outstanding immunologist. I always looked forward to our regular meetings about his part in our projects on the immunopathology of malaria and bacterial meningitis. He was a brilliant thinker, with uncompromising scientific standards and clever ideas coupled with a lovely, clear writing style. His work ethic was ferocious.
    Andrew was very popular in the lab and among his peers more generally. Not only was he selfless and unstinting in helping novitiates in the dark arts of flow and immunology, but his laconic humour was always in evidence. At heart he was an outdoor person, bush-walking and rock-climbing as often as he could. I used to tease him that his ideal holiday was trudging through the mud on a drizzly day in New Zealand, and that wasn’t far off the truth.
    I can’t remember anyone ever saying something critical about Andrew. He was a talented researcher and terrific person.

    Nick Hunt, Pathology, University of Sydney

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