Nobel prize for medicine awarded for work on ageing . Oct 2009

Nobel prize for medicine awarded for work on ageing

Three scientists win the most prestigious prize in medicine for work on telomeres

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·         Monday 5 October 2009 

 

The Nobel prize for medicine goes to three researchers for their work on the ageing process, including Elizabeth Blackburn.

The discovery of a "protective cap" that prevents chromosomes from falling apart when cells divide has earned three American researchers this year's Nobel prize in medicine.

The award, announced at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, honours Elizabeth Blackburn at the University of California, San Francisco, Carole Gredier at Johns Hopkins University, and Jack Szostak at Harvard University.

The three share the prize of 10m Swedish kronor (£818,000). It is the first time the Nobel prize for medicine has been awarded to two women at the same time.

The thread-like DNA molecules that carry genes are packed into chromosomes, the telomeres being the caps on their ends. Blackburn and Szostak discovered that a unique DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation.

Greider and Blackburn identified an enzyme, telomerase, that makes the telomeres.

When cells divide, telomeres gradually become shorter and the cells age. But if the telomerase enzyme is very active, telomere lengths are maintained and cells are kept young. This is the process that occurs in cancer cells, which grow and divide without ageing.

Defective telomeras gives rise to a range of inherited diseases.

The discoveries had a major impact within the scientific community, and many scientists speculate that telomere shortening could be the reason for ageing.

The ageing process has since been found to be more complex and is now thought to depend on several different factors, the telomere being one of them.

Inherited diseases now known to be caused by telomerase defects include certain forms of a condition called "congenital aplastic anemia", in which insufficient cell divisions in the stem cells of the bone marrow lead to severe anemia. Certain inherited diseases of the skin and the lungs are also caused by telomerase defects.

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Work on Telomeres Wins Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 3 U.S. Genetic Researchers [Update]

Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak are recognized for research into telomeres--a key chromosome component--and the related enzyme telomerase


telomere genetic code UNRAVELING TELOMERES: The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine recognizes work going back nearly three decades on the role of genetic code that marks the end of chromosomes. Image: THE NOBEL COMMITTEE/ANNIKA ROHL

Supplemental Material

The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine will go to three Americans who discovered telomeres, the genetic code that protects the ends of chromosomes, and telomerase, the enzyme that assists in this process, findings that are important in the study of cancer, aging and stem cells.

Announced this morning in Stockholm, the three geneticists—Elizabeth Blackburn, a professor of biology and physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, Carol Greider, a professor in the department of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and Jack Szostak, a professor of genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who are all previous Scientific American authors—will split the award of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.4 million), along with the prestige and honor.

The work for which they received the award illuminated key aspects of the DNA replication process. As genetic material is copied from the chromosome during cell division, the whole DNA strand must be duplicated from end to end, otherwise, portions of genetic information will be lost. Until the 1980s, it was a mystery as to how the chromosomes could be reliably copied the whole way through without missing bits and pieces at the very end of each strand. Work completed by this year’s laureates demonstrated how, if parts of the end-cap telomeres were missing, DNA would eventually be shortened and cut off in the replication process.

Blackburn and Szostak, who had been studying the ends of chromosomes and minichromosomes respectively, met at a conference in 1980, after which they began collaborating. Two years later, they demonstrated in a paper published in Cell that the telomere sequence could be isolated, inserted into another organism and still serve the same function. Working with Blackburn, Greider helped in 1989 to identify the RNA-based telomerase—the enzyme that creates the crucial telomeres—in a paper published in Nature. (Scientific American is part of the Nature Publishing Group.)
 More at  www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=nobel-prize-medicine-2009-genetics

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