Radio Shows | Nobel Prizes — 2009 | mp3 … wma … wav
Often researchers involved in basic biomedical science canít predict the impact their studies could have. We saw that exemplified in last yearís winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
The honors went to a trio of Americans who answered a very fundamental biological question — how do cells reliably divide and reproduce?
The winners were Elizabeth Blackburn from the University of California, Carol Greider from Johns Hopkins and Jack Szostak from Harvard. It is the first time two women have shared the Nobel.
Their work was on something called telomeres and the protein that creates them called telomerase. What the trio discovered is that telomeres are integral to the cellís ability to faithfully divide and reproduce.
Thatís because telomeres protect our chromosomes — structures in the cell that contain DNA, our genetic information. Telomeres are literally protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that keep them from degrading.
So, without telomeres, the cell begins to lose more and more of its DNA and eventually can not divide accurately, if at all. But that appears to be a natural progression because studies now suggest as cells divide, they begin to lose telomeres.
That may help us explain premature aging and senescence of cells.
But what about cancer cells that replicate indefinitely? Turns out they have high levels of telomerase activity which preserves their chromosomes and prevents senescence — not a good property for cancer cells to possess.
So, by understanding telomeres and telomerase, itís possible we could delay aging and discover new ways to fight cancer. This discovery has profoundly transformed our understanding of biology and medicine, hence the highest honor was given to our trio of scientists.
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