Molecular biologist Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD
, 60, of the University of California, San Francisco, today was named to receive the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Blackburn shares the award with Carol W. Greider of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Jack W. Szostak of Harvard Medical School.
The scientists discovered an enzyme that plays a key role in normal cell function, as well as in cell aging and most cancers. The enzyme is called telomerase and it produces tiny units of DNA that seal off the ends of chromosomes, which contain the body's genes. These DNA units -- named telomeres -- protect the integrity of the genes and maintain chromosomal stability and accurate cell division. They also determine the number of times a cell divides -- and thus determine the lifespan of cells.
Read more at Jennifer O'Brien, UCSF News Office