Blackburn Explains Award-winning Research

By Lisa Cisneros and Jennifer O'Brien, UCSF Public Affairs | March 16, 2005

About 200 people gathered recently at the Gladstone Institutes to hear UCSF microbiologist Elizabeth H. Blackburn give an update on her groundbreaking research on the roles of telomeres and telomerase in health and disease.

Blackburn delivered the 2005 Gladstone Distinguished Lecture in Molecular and Cell Biology on March 7.

At UCSF Mission Bay, Blackburn leads a laboratory team that is analyzing telomerase and telomeres in yeasts and in human cancer cells to understand their full roles in cell division processes. She continues to explore how tumor growth can be controlled by either inhibiting or activating telomerase in cancer cells. The recipient of numerous honors and awards, Blackburn's achievements continue to hold enormous possibilities for biomedical research on aging and cancer treatment.

The Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF, Blackburn, PhD, began her talk by explaining the function of telomeres and telomerase.

Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes that cap the ends of chromosomes and promote genetic stability. Each time a cell divides, a portion of telomeric DNA dwindles away, and after many rounds of cell division, so much telomeric DNA has diminished that the aged cell stops dividing. Thus, telomeres play a critical role in determining the number of times a cell divides, its health and its life span. These factors, in turn, affect the health of the tissues that cells form.

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