US trio win Nobel Medicine Prize for research into ageing

(AFP) -

Australian-American researcher Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider and Jack Szostak of the United States won the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday for identifying a key switch in cellular ageing.

The trio were honoured for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the role of an enzyme called telomerase in maintaining or stripping away this molecular shield.

"The award of the Nobel Prize recognises the discovery of a fundamental mechanism in the cell, a discovery that has stimulated the development of new therapeutic strategies," the Nobel jury said.

Blackburn and Greider are only the ninth and tenth women to win the Nobel Medicine Prize since 1901 -- out of a total 195 medicine laureates -- and this is the first time two women have shared the honour.

But Nobel committee secretary Goeran Hansson said gender played no part in the decision.

"They're not being honoured because they are women. They are being honoured because they've made a fundamentally important discovery," he told Swedish news agency TT.

The three laureates told Swedish Radio they were overjoyed by the news.

Greider, born in 1961 and a molecular biology and genetics professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, was "just thrilled."

"I just think that the recognition for curiosity-driven basic science is very, very nice," she said, adding that she was up doing laundry in the US when the early morning call came from Sweden.

Blackburn, born in 1948, who teaches biology and physiology at the University of California in San Francisco, said she knew when they made their Christmas Day 1984 discovery that they were on to something big.

"I felt very excited ... and I thought this is very interesting, this is a very important result, and you don't often feel that about a result," she said.

Szostak, 56, a professor of genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said he planned to celebrate with "a big party at some point."

Telomeres are a minute yet vital factor in ageing. They are like a nubby, protective cap, fitting on the ends of the strands of DNA -- the chemical recipe for life -- that are packed into chromosomes.

Blackburn and Szostak discovered in 1982 that a unique DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation when the cells divide. With Greider, Blackburn also identified telomerase, the enzyme that makes the telomere DNA.

If telomeres become worn, cells age.

But if telomerase levels are high, the telomere length is maintained, and cellular ageing is braked. A small number of rare but very destructive diseases, including a form of severe anaemia, are linked to defective telomerase, resulting in damaged cells.

Yet there is also a darker and more complex side to this picture.

Many experts initially speculated that ageing could be pinned to telomere shortening, but the process has emerged as something that encompasses different factors, as well as telomeres.

In addition, high telomerase also helps cancer, enabling its cells to replicate endlessly and achieve what scientists call "cellular immortality."

Finding ways of blocking this machinery through "telomerase inhibitors" is one of the most eagerly explored areas of cancer research.

The trio's work has "added a new dimension to our understanding of the cell, shed light on disease mechanisms, and stimulated the development of potential new therapies," the Nobel citation said.

The three won the 2006 Lasker Prize, one of the most prestigious US science awards, for the same work.

The Medicine Prize is the first award to be announced in this year's Nobel season.

The Physics Prize is to be announced on Tuesday followed by the Chemistry Prize on Wednesday. The Literature Prize will be announced on Thursday and the Peace Prize on Friday.

The Economics Prize will wrap up the awards on October 12.

The laureates receive a gold medal, a diploma and 10 million Swedish kronor (1.42 million dollars, 980,000 euros) which can be split between up to three winners per prize. The prizes are awarded in Stockholm and Oslo on December 10.

po/ri/mb

Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living