Trio's cell study earns Nobel medicine prize

Three scientists have shared this year’s Nobel prize in medicine for their pioneering work in understanding how chomosomes – the microscopic filaments containing the cell’s genetic material – are able to divide repeatedly without falling apart.

They discovered how vital structures called telomeres at the tips of the chromosomes allow the cell’s long molecules of DNA to replicate without getting progressively shorter. They also found how telomeres are able to replenish themselves and so prevent premature ageing of the cell.

The work has revolutionised the fields of cancer research and the study of tissue ageing. It is now realised that telomeres, and the enzyme telomerase that helps to make them grow again after being shortened in each cell division, are central to whether a cell stops dividing and dies, or whether it continues to divide in perpetuity by forming a cancerous tumour.

All three scientists are American citizens and work in the United States. Australian-born Elizabeth Blackburn, British-born Jack Szostak and US-born Carol Greider each share a third of the 10 million Swedish crowns (£900,000) prize money awarded by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm for the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

“The discoveries by Blackburn, Greider and Szostak have added a new dimension to our understanding of the cell, shed light on disease mechanisms and stimulated the development of potential new therapies,” the Karolinksa Institute said in a statement issued today.

Professor Greider, 48, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the youngest of the three and a former graduate student of Professor Blackburn’s, said that the early work she carried out with her colleagues in the 1980s was driven by scientific curiousity rather than a practical use.

“We had no idea when we started this work that telomerase would be involved in cancer, but were simply curious about how chomosomes stayed intact. Our approach shows that while you can do research that tries to answer specific questions about a disease, you can also follow your nose,” Professor Greider.

Telomeres have been likened to the plastic tips of bootlaces that stop them from fraying. They bind to the end of the chromosomes, preventing them from fragmenting each time the chromosome divides in two during cell division.

Professor Blackburn of the University of California San Francisco and Professor Szostak of Harvard Medical School, showed that specific sequences of DNA building blocks within the telomeres of one species of microbe can be placed on the ends of artificial chromosomes and protect them from disintegrating when inserted into the cells of a completely unrelated species.

“This demonstrates the existence of a previously unrecognised fundamental mechanism. Later on, it became evident that telemore DNA with its characteristic sequence is present in most plants and animals, from amoeba to man,” the Karolinska said.

Further research showed mutations that shortened the telomeres led to cell senescence, when they grow old and die, whereas the enzyme telomerase, which lengthens the telomeres, keeps cell actively dividing, just like a cancer cell. Drug companies are now invesigating telomerase for anti-ageing and anti-cancer properties.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine