First awarded in 1945, the Lasker Awards, often dubbed the "American Nobels," are considered by many the nation's most prestigious honor for basic and clinical medical research, primarily because of the extremely rigorous process of nomination and selection conducted by a jury of the world's top scientists.
The 2006 award recognizes Greider, the Daniel Nathans Professor and director of molecular biology and genetics in the Johns Hopkins Institute of Basic Biomedical Sciences, along with Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, and Jack Szostak, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School. The three predicted and discovered telomerase, an enzyme that maintains the length and integrity of chromosome ends (telomeres) and has drawn intense interest from researchers studying the role of telomeres in everything from aging to cancer. The Lasker Award carries a $100,000 cash prize that will be shared by the three.
Each time a cell divides, its chromosomes become a little shorter. As cells age, their telomeres shorten. The consequent loss of telomere function will cause some cells to stop dividing or die and others to undergo chromosome rearrangements that can lead to cancer.
Greider, Blackburn and Szostak performed their groundbreaking investigations in the late 1970s and 1980s. Blackburn showed that simple repeated DNA sequences make up chromosome ends and, with Szostak, established that these repeated sequences stabilize chromosomes and prevent them from becoming damaged. Szostak and Blackburn predicted the existence of an enzyme that would add the sequences to chromosome termini.
While a graduate student with Blackburn, who was then faculty at Berkeley, Greider tracked down the enzyme telomerase. She later determined that each organism's telomerase contains an RNA component that serves as a template for the creature's particular telomere DNA repeat sequence. In addition to providing insight into how
Contact: Audrey Huang
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions