Chromosome instability in the Hickson Group

The main focus of the Hickson Group is to define how chromosomal instability over the life-course influences the aging process and age-associated pathologies.

Chromosome instability in the Hickson Group

Research focus

The Hickson Group utilizes cutting-edge molecular/cell biology techniques, coupled with innovative biophysical methods to understand the molecular basis of the aging process. The aim is to identify how changes to chromosome structure and integrity impact on the fitness of human cells and their longevity.

“Our ultimate aim is to be able to design interventions that will have a positive impact on the health-span of individuals”, says Professor and Group Leader Ian Hickson.

The group has world-leading expertise in the study of how chromosome integrity is maintained in human cells. This has permitted the group to define the molecular basis of selected genetic disorders that are associated with premature aging and/or an increased incidence of age-associated disease. Together with partners in the University of Copenhagen and Center for Chromosome Stability, the group seeks to understand ways in which chromosome instability can be minimized and/or prevented.

Main findings

  • The group has defined a new DNA repair process that operates at sites within the human genome where DNA replication is particularly problematic. These sites, called fragile sites, are very prone to being unstable and are hotspots for rearrangements in human cancers and neurological disorders.

  • The group is using innovative techniques developed by physicists to create a laboratory mimic of the process whereby chromosomes are partitioned between daughter cells during cell division. Using optical tweezers, the group has defined how faulty chromosome partitioning can be rescued by DNA repair proteins diving mitotic cell division.

  • The group studies inherited disorders in humans associated with unusually high levels of age-associated disease. One of these, Bloom’s syndrome, has been a focus of the group for over a decade. Recent findings have shed light on how excessive cancer in Bloom’s arises.

Selected projects

The role of folate deficiency in the development of age-associated chromosome damage and human disease

Together with our collaborator, Associate professor Ying Liu, the Hickson Group investigates the link between folate deprivation, chromosome maintenance and the development of neurological disorders. Dietary folate deficiency is common in the elderly because of reduced intake and poor intestinal absorption. The group will seek to define new biomarkers of defective genome maintenance associated with folate deprivation.