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Gilles Hickson

Understanding the molecular mechanisms of cell division


Gilles Hickson, PhD

Gilles HicksonGilles Hickson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology & Cell Biology of the Université de Montréal since May 2009, and is based at Sainte-Justine Hospital research center.  Dr. Hickson obtained a PhD in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology in Glasgow, UK, before undertaking postdoctoral training under Prof. Patrick O’Farrell at the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco.  There he obtained a Career Development award from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for his work elucidating the mechanisms of cell division.  He also obtained a Chercheur-Boursier Junior 1 salary award from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec-Santé (FRQS) in 2009.

Leukemias (and indeed all cancers) are characterized by the uncontrolled proliferation and division of a subset of cells in an otherwise tightly controlled and balanced system.

His laboratory aims to understand the molecular details of how cells physically split into two through a process called cytokinesis, and in different developmental contexts, such as in stem cells where the cells divide asymmetrically to produce different daughter cells with different fates.

He will use specific genetic and pharmacologic tools to perturb the molecular pathways involved in cytokinesis and monitor the consequences using high-resolution video-microscopy of living cells expressing fluorescently-tagged proteins of interest.  This provides rich molecular information not only on how cells can divide, but how they do so in such a robust manner that maintains the fidelity of the process in the face of the staggering numbers of cell divisions that occur during the development of a human and indeed throughout our lives.

Understanding the molecular details of cytokinesis is crucially important because errors in the process may give rise to leukemia, and because leukemia cells themselves divide using the same machinery.  Thus by working out the molecular details of cytokinesis we can learn both about potential mechanisms underlying the the development of leukemia and identify novel targets for blocking leukemia cell division.