Telomerase Researchers Won Nobel Prize in Medicine

Congratulations to Liz Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak for winning the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine:

Molecular biologist Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD, 60, of the University of California, San Francisco, today was named to receive the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Blackburn shares the award with Carol W. Greider of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Jack W. Szostak of Harvard Medical School.

The scientists discovered an enzyme that plays a key role in normal cell function, as well as in cell aging and most cancers. The enzyme is called telomerase and it produces tiny units of DNA that seal off the ends of chromosomes, which contain the body’s genes. These DNA units – named telomeres – protect the integrity of the genes and maintain chromosomal stability and accurate cell division. They also determine the number of times a cell divides—and thus determine the lifespan of cells.

I remember taking Liz Blackburn's class when I was a graduate student in UCSF and she was actually one of the professors in my thesis defense - you'd be hard pressed to find a nicer and smarter person. A well deserved prize for Liz. Congrats! | Blackburn Lab website

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I remember hearing about this type of research when it was just starting. It seemed really promising but I don't recall hearing anything more for a while after that. Glad to hear it amounted to something.
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I hope that this finding leads to further research. It would be nice to see some advancements on disease, aging (especially the brain) and most of all cancer. It is about time.
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Yes, Liz was born in Hobart and raised in Launceston Tasmania as I read in our paper this morning. And as a US citizen and an Australian resident for 13 years in Launceston I applaud Liz on her brave stance for science over politics. Congrats on the Nobel Prize!
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One piece of biographical information about Elizabeth Blackburn was left out -- her brave role in exposing the charade of George W. Bush's "President's Council on Bioethics."

From Nick Anthis, at the Scientific Activist.

From 2001 to 2004 [Blackburn] served as one of only three full-time biomedical researchers on the 17-to-18-member council. In 2004, she was fired from the council, along with another member who disagreed with the administration's position on some of the relevant issues.

Blackburn spoke out about the Council of Bioethics, demonstrating that despite its written mission to be a body that monitors research developments and recommends appropriate guidelines, it was really just a tool for parroting the Bush Administration's positions on certain hot-button issues -- particularly embryonic stem cell research. Thus, Blackburn played a central and important role in revealing the extent of the political interference in science that pervaded the Bush Administration.

After her firing, Blackburn published a strongly worded account of her experiences in the New England Journal of Medicine. Her closing paragraph definitely deserves a prize:

When prominent scientists must fear that descriptions of their research will be misrepresented and misused by their government to advance political ends, something is deeply wrong. Leading scientists are routinely called on to volunteer their expertise to the government, through study sections of the National Institutes of Health and advisory panels of the National Academy of Sciences and as advisers to departments ranging from health and human services to defense. It has been the unspoken attitude of the scientific community that it is our duty to serve our government in this manner, independent of our personal political affiliations and those of the administration in effect at the time. But something has changed. The healthy skepticism of scientists has turned to cynicism. There is a growing sense that scientific research -- which, after all, is defined by the quest for truth -- is being manipulated for political ends. There is evidence that such manipulation is being achieved through the stacking of the membership of advisory bodies and through the delay and misrepresentation of their reports. As a naturalized citizen of the United States, I have an immigrant's love for my country. But our country must not fail us. Scientific advice should and must be protected from the influence of politics. Will the President's Council on Bioethics be up to that challenge?

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