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New professor at »aging« exhibition

Bacteria you can eat, a PhD disaster, and the link beween yeast and a cure for cancer. All delivered by Oxford professor Ian Hickson in his inaugural lecture at the Centre for Healthy Aging

Ian Hickson, professor in molecular aging, had his new job at the University of Copenhagen marked with an inauguration event Monday at the Panum Institute, complete with choral music. The ceremony also marked the opening of a new exhibition on aging by the Medical Museion in the Panum Institute buildings.

See pictures of the exhibition here

The celebrated cancer researcher, who joins the Faculty of Health Science’s Centre for Healthy Aging after 20 years at Oxford University, was full of self-deprecating humour as he recounted his career so far:

PhD disaster

»My PhD collapsed half way through. I had no results, and nowhere to go,« started Ian Hickson.

He had just shown the assembled crowds at the Dam Auditorium a slide of a large, phallus-shaped container destined to be a breeding ground for gallons of edible bacteria. His PhD was a collaboration with the chemical company ICI, to transform a bacteria into a source of food for fish, and for humans.

The space-age project was a disaster, and he landed, somewhat by chance, in the field of molecular aging research. And a good thing too.

First-rate teacher

Reading up from a long CV, Ulla Wewer, the Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, proudly recited the accomplishments of the Faculty’s new employee.

»Not only is Ian Hickson a pioneering researcher in the field of molecular aging, he combines research excellence with first-rate teaching,« she enthused.

As a young researcher, Ian Hickson identified two x-ray sensitive E.Coli genes, and was published in the international journal Nature; the two genes propelled him into a career of international renown.

From yeast to cancer

At Oxford, Ian Hickson concentrated his efforts on the molecular make-up of baker’s yeast, a single cell organism. However, using yeast as a model organism, he moved onto the study of human disease, in the form of Bloom’s Syndrome.

Bloom’s syndrome is a genetic disease which leads to dwarfism and a predisposition to types of cancer.

Benefit for patients

Now, Ian Hickson focuses his research on DNA damage and repair. At the Centre for Healthy Aging, he plans to explore the relationship between DNA damage and cancer, and neurodegeneration.

He also hopes to translate laboratory findings into diagnostic and prognostic tools, as well as treatments.

»We hope to translate basic science into patient benefits,« he explained.

Musical interlude

Ian Hickson’s inauguration was rounded off with choral music by a bow-tie and gown clad choir called Lille Muko that sang Danish songs, including a musical rendition of Danish poet Piet Hein’s You must plant a tree.

The occasion also marked the opening of a new exhibition on aging by the Medicinal Museion in the Panum buildings called Healthy Aging; a lifespan approach.

Glasses and walking sticks

The exhibition combines text, images and material artifacts to communicate »culture in science« to a ‘professional’ audience of students and researchers at the university, as Thomas Söderqvist, Director of the Medicinal Museion, put it.

It includes photographic collages by artist Liv Carlé Mortensen, with images of Danish centenarians. Objects in glass cases are cultural and social artifacts of overcoming old age; glasses, walking sticks and hearing aids. The texts are the words of age researchers.

See pictures of the exhibition here