UCSF's Elizabeth Blackburn Receives Two Major Science Awards

Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California San Francisco, has been named 1999 California Scientist of the Year and is the recipient of the 1998 Passano Award, two high honors in science.

Blackburn received the honors for her pioneering studies on telomeres, segments of DNA that bind both ends of chromosomes, the gene-bearing strands of DNA whose integrity is essential for the healthy development and life span of organisms.

During two decades of research, Blackburn has determined that telomeres are crucial for maintaining the stability and integrity of chromosomes. In 1985, she and her then PhD graduate student at UC Berkeley, Carol Greider, discovered the novel enzyme that creates telomeres.

Telomeres play a curious, but key, role in determining the number of times a cell divides--an event that affects the life span and health of cells and the development of some cancers. Blackburn's discovery of the enzyme telomerase has spawned a whole field of inquiry into the possibility that the enzyme could be manipulated to prolong cell life and combat cancer.

Blackburn received the California Scientist of the Year award from the California Science Center, a department of the state of California, and its nonprofit affiliate, the California Science Center Foundation. The award recognizes a current contribution to science that "extends the boundaries of any field of science" and signifies a "definite advance of knowledge."

Nine California Scientists of the Year recipients have subsequently won the Nobel Prize, including UC San Francisco Chancellor J. Michael Bishop, M.D., and UCSF professor Harold E. Varmus, M.D., currently director of the National Institutes of Health.

Blackburn received the Passano Award from the Passano Foundation, which annually recognizes an outstanding contribution to the advancement of medical science, with prime consideration given to work with imm

Contact: Jennifer O'Brien
University of California - San Francisco

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