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Elizabeth Blackburn Is Awarded Nobel Prize in Medicine

The member of the Academy community shares the prize with two colleagues for their discoveries of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.

Published October 05, 2009

The Nobel Committee at Karolinska Institutet today named Elizabeth Blackburn, along with her colleagues Carol Greider and Jack Szostak, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The scientists are recognized for their discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.

The three solved a major problem in biology, the committee announced: "how the chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they are protected against degradation... [they have] shown that the solution is to be found in the ends of the chromosomes—the telomeres—and in an enzyme that forms them—telomerase."

The Nobel Committee praised Elizabeth Blackburn, of University of California, San Francisco, and Jack Szostak, of Harvard Medical School, for their discovery that a unique DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation. The committee credited Carol Greider, of Johns Hopkins University, for identifying, with Blackburn, telomerase, the enzyme that makes telomere DNA. "These discoveries explained how the ends of the chromosomes are protected by the telomeres and that they are built by telomerase," the committee announced. "The award of the Nobel Prize recognizes the discovery of a fundamental mechanism in the cell, a discovery that has stimulated the development of new therapeutic strategies."

Blackburn co-authored a paper that was published in a recent volume of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, "Can Meditation Slow Rate of Cellular Aging? Cognitive Stress, Mindfulness, and Telomeres" (Volume 1172, Issue 0, August 2009, p. 34-53). She also hosted a meeting, "Chromosome Ends - Life and Diseases," at the Academy in May 2008, and she explains her discovery and its significance in a video interview with the New York Academy of Sciences.

The full announcement of the 2009 Nobel Prize award is available from the Nobel Committee.