Helga M. Ögmundsdóttir

Position: Professor
Telephone: + 354 525 4897
E-mail: helgaogm@hi.is


Helga graduated with a medical degree from the University of Iceland in 1975 and  PhD in immunology from the University of Edinburgh in 1979.  Following two further years in Edinburgh as a lecturer in virology and immunology she moved back to Iceland, first to the Department of Virology. In 1987 she was appointed by the Icelandic Cancer Society to establish a new laboratory, The Molecular and Cell Biology Research Laboratory.  The laboratory was linked to the Faculty of Medicine from the beginning through teaching of medical students and supervision of research projects. Helga became a professor of cell biology in 2001. The laboratory is now part of the Faculty of Medicine (since 2007).  Helga also chairs the Committee for Post-Graduate Studies at the Faculty of Medicine. She was a member of the Executive Committee of the European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) 1998-2008, as Secretary 1998-2004.


Helga has been involved in a variety of different research projects. These include studies on various aspects of the cell biology of breast cancer, including cytogenetics of breast cancer. Also molecular changes in mucosal lesions in the mouth and oral cancer. Furthermore,  projects linking the study of immunology and malignancy, studying the genetic and biological basis of B-cell-derived malignancies. In a long-standing collaboration with the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences the effects of lichen-derived compounds on cancer cells have been investigated. Biobank-based research on cancer causes in international collaborations.

Main research projects

Breast cancer: We succeeded early on to establish primary cultures from breast carcinomas, which until then had been regarded as almost impossible. Studies on the interaction between breast cancer and the immune system revealed a complex picture and factors that can influence prognosis and risk for late recurrence of the disease. Extensive chromosomal analyses were performed where molecular data from Jórunn on the samples allowed for valuable comparisons.  Immortalized cell lines harbouring the Icelandic founder mutation, 999del5, in the BRCA2 gene have been established.

B-cell derived malignancies: Several families have been identified in Iceland with a high prevalence of multiple myeloma, Waldenström‘s macroglobulinaemia and monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance (MGUS).  This predisposition appears to be associated with an inherited functional aberration in the function B lymphocytes. A phenotype of hyper-responding B lymphocytes has been defined. Collaboration with clinical haematologists: Hlíf Steingrímsdóttir and Vilhelmína Haraldsdóttir.

Compounds from lichen and marine invertebrates: In collaboration with the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, first Kristínu Ingólfsdóttir, later Sesselja Ómarsdóttir. Several extracts and compounds have been identified with anti-proliferative and cytotoxic effects against cancer cells. Two purified lichen compounds, usnic acid and protolichesterinic acid,  are being investigated in detail and shown to have specific effects on cellular energy status and metabolism, particularly by acting on pH gradients and lipid metabolism. These properties can then be associated with synergism with known cancer drugs.

Research on risk factors and cancer causation: Nordic and international biobank-based studies.

Other projects: Mucosal lesions in the oral cavity: mutations and risk for malignant transformation. Collaboration with Peter Holbrook, Faculty of Odontology.

Selected puplications

1.  Proton-Shuttling lichen compound usnic acid affects mitochondrial and lysosomal function in cancer cells. Bessadottir M, Egilsson M, Einarsdottir E, Magnusdottir IH, Ogmundsdottir MH, Omarsdottir S, Ogmundsdottir HM. PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org 1 December 2012 | Volume 7 | Issue 12 | e51296

2.  Cytogenetic polyclonality of breast carcinomas: association with clinico-pathological    characteristics and outcome. Steinarsdottir M, Gudmundsson IH, Jonasson JG, Olafsdottir EJ, Eyfjörd JE, Ogmundsdottir HM. Genes Chromosomes Cancer. 2011 Nov;50(11):930-9. doi: 10.1002/gcc.20915. Epub 2011 Aug 24.

3.  Familial monoclonal gammopathy: hyper-responsive B cells in unaffected family members. Steingrímsdóttir H, Einarsdóttir HK, Haraldsdóttir V, Ogmundsdóttir HM. Eur J Haematol. 2011 May;86(5):396-404. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0609.2011.01593.x. Epub 2011 Mar 30.

4.  Cellular mechanisms of the anticancer effects of the lichen compound usnic acid. Einarsdóttir E, Groeneweg J, Björnsdóttir GG, Harethardottir G, Omarsdóttir S, Ingólfsdóttir K, Ogmundsdóttir HM.
Planta Med. 2010 Jul;76(10):969-74. Epub 2010 Feb 8.

5.  Longitudinal study of TP53 mutations in eight patients with potentially malignant oral mucosal disorders. Ogmundsdóttir HM, Hilmarsdóttir H, Björnsson J, Holbrook WP. J Oral Pathol Med. 2009 Oct;38(9):716-21. Epub 2009 Mar 14.

6.  Establishment of three human breast epithelial cell lines derived from carriers of the 999del5 BRCA2 Icelandic founder mutation. Rubner Fridriksdottir AJ, Gudjonsson T, Halldorsson T, Björnsson J, Steinarsdottir M, Johannsson OT, Ogmundsdottir HM. In Vitro Cell Dev Biol Anim. 2005 Nov-Dec;41(10):337-42.

7.   Altered expression of HLA class I antigens in breast cancer: association with prognosis. Guðmundsdóttir I, Jónasson JG, Sigurðsson H, Ólafsdóttir K, Tryggvadóttir L, Ögmundsdóttir HM. Int J Cancer (Pred Oncol), 2000, 89, 500-505.

8.   Nordic biological specimen banks as basis for studies of cancer causes and control–more than 2 million sample donors, 25 million person years and 100,000 prospective cancers. Pukkala E, Andersen A, Berglund G, Gislefoss R, Gudnason V, Hallmans G, Jellum E, Jousilahti P, Knekt P, Koskela P, Kyyrönen PP, Lenner P, Luostarinen T, Löve A, Ogmundsdóttir H, Stattin P, Tenkanen L, Tryggvadóttir L, Virtamo J, Wadell G, Widell A, Lehtinen M, Dillner J. Acta Oncol. 2007;46(3):286-307.

9.  Effects of lymphocytes and fibroblasts on the growth of human mammary carcinoma cells studied in short-term primary cultures. Ogmundsdóttir HM, Pétursdóttir I, Gudmundsdóttir I, Amundadóttir L, Rønnov-Jessen L, Petersen OW. In Vitro Cell Dev Biol Anim. 1993 Dec;29A(12):936-42.