Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD

Professor, Departments of Biochemistry/Biophysics and Microbiology/Immunology, UCSF
Morris Herzstein Endowed Chair in Biology and Physiology, UCSF


Phone: (415) 476-4912 (office); (415) 476-2824 (asst)
Box 2200, UCSF
San Francisco, CA 94143-2202

UCSF Profiles | Blackburn Lab

Research Summary

Dr. Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Morris Herztein Professor of Biology and Physiology in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, is a leader in the area of telomere and telomerase research.

She discovered the molecular nature of telomeres - the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes that serve as protective caps essential for preserving the genetic information - and the ribonucleoprotein enzyme, telomerase. Blackburn and her research team at the University of California, San Francisco are working with various cells including human cells, with the goal of understanding telomerase and telomere biology.

Blackburn earned her B.Sc. (1970) and M.Sc. (1972) degrees from the University of Melbourne in Australia, and her Ph.D. (1975) from the University of Cambridge in England. She did her postdoctoral work in Molecular and Cellular Biology from 1975 to 1977 at Yale.

In 1978, Blackburn joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley in the Department of Molecular Biology. In 1990, she joined the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UC San Francisco, where she served as Department Chair from 1993 to 1999. Blackburn is currently a faculty member in Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF. She is also a Non-Resident Fellow of the Salk Institute.

Throughout her career, Blackburn has been honored by her peers as the recipient of many prestigious awards. She was elected President of the American Society for Cell Biology for the year 1998. Blackburn is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), the Royal Society of London (1992), the American Academy of Microbiology (1993), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2000).

She was elected Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences in 1993, and was elected as a Member of the Institute of Medicine in 2000. She was awarded the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award in Basic Medical Research (2006). In 2007 she was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most influential People and she is the 2008 North American Laureate for L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science.


University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, B.Sc., 1970, Biochemistry
University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, M.Sc., 1972, Biochemistry
University of Cambridge, England, Ph.D., 1975, Molecular Biology
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, Postdoc., 1975-1977, Molecular and Cellular Biology

Professional Experience

  • 1970-1971
    Graduate Research Student, Master of Science Degree course Department of Biochemistry, University of Melbourne, Australia
  • 1971-1974
    Graduate Research Student, Division of Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England (Advisor: F. Sanger)
  • 1975-1977
    Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biology, Yale University
  • 1978 Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biochemistry, University of California, San Francisco
  • 1978-1983
    Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Biology, University of California, Berkeley
  • 1983-1986
    Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biology, University of California, Berkeley
  • 1986-1990
    Professor, Department of Molecular Biology, University of California, Berkeley
  • 1993-1999
    Chair, Department of Microbiology Immunology, University of California, San Francisco
  • 1990-present
    Professor, Departments of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and Microbiology and Immunology, University of California, San Francisco
  • 1996-present
    Member, Breast Oncology Program (1996) and Genitourinary Oncology Program (1999), UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • 2001-present
    Scientific Advisory Board, Division of Basic Science, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
  • 2003-present
    Scientific Advisory Board, Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City
  • 2003-2007
    Member, National Advisory Council on Aging, National Institute of Aging, NIH
  • 2008-present
    Member, National Academies of Sciences Committee on Science, Technology and the Law.

Honors & Awards

  • Selected honors and awards since 2000. For complete list, see Blackburn Lab website.
  • 2000
    American Association for Cancer Research-G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award
  • 2000
    Elected, Institute of Medicine
  • 2000
    American Cancer Society Medal of Honor
  • 2000
    Elected, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • 2001
    AACR-Pezcoller Foundation International Award for Cancer Research
  • 2001
    General Motors Cancer Research Foundation Alfred P. Sloan Award
  • 2003
    26th Annual Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research
  • 2005
    Kirk A. Landon-American Association for Cancer Research Prize for Basic Cancer Research
  • 2005
    Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science
  • 2005
    New York Academy of Medicine Medal
  • 2006
    National Cancer Institute Alfred G. Knudson Award
  • 2006
    Fifth annual Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences
  • 2006
    Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research
  • 2006
    The 25th Meyenburg Prize
  • 2006
    Elected, American Philosophical Society
  • 2007
    Elected, Australian Academy of Science
  • 2007
    TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World
  • 2008
    L’Oreal UNESCO For Women In Science Award
  • 2008
    Weizmann Women & Science Award: Weizmann Institute of Science
  • 2009
    Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Selected Publications

  1. Goglin SE, Farzaneh-Far R, Epel ES, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Whooley MA. Correction: Change in Leukocyte Telomere Length Predicts Mortality in Patients with Stable Coronary Heart Disease from the Heart and Soul Study. PLoS One. 2016; 11(12):e0168868.
    View on PubMed
  2. Rehkopf DH, Needham BL, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Zota AR, Wojcicki JM, Epel ES. Leukocyte Telomere Length in Relation to 17 Biomarkers of Cardiovascular Disease Risk: A Cross-Sectional Study of US Adults. PLoS Med. 2016 Nov; 13(11):e1002188.
    View on PubMed
  3. Goglin SE, Farzaneh-Far R, Epel ES, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Whooley MA. Change in Leukocyte Telomere Length Predicts Mortality in Patients with Stable Coronary Heart Disease from the Heart and Soul Study. PLoS One. 2016; 11(10):e0160748.
    View on PubMed
  4. Auld E, Lin J, Chang E, Byanyima P, Ayakaka I, Musisi E, Worodria W, Davis JL, Segal M, Blackburn E, Huang L. HIV Infection Is Associated with Shortened Telomere Length in Ugandans with Suspected Tuberculosis. PLoS One. 2016; 11(9):e0163153.
    View on PubMed
  5. Epel ES, Puterman E, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Lum PY, Beckmann ND, Zhu J, Lee E, Gilbert A, Rissman RA, Tanzi RE, Schadt EE. Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes. Transl Psychiatry. 2016; 6(8):e880.
    View on PubMed
  6. Usadi B, Bruhn R, Lin J, Lee TH, Blackburn E, Murphy EL. Telomere Length, Proviral Load and Neurologic Impairment in HTLV-1 and HTLV-2-Infected Subjects. Viruses. 2016; 8(8).
    View on PubMed
  7. Peng H, Zhu Y, Yeh F, Cole SA, Best LG, Lin J, Blackburn E, Devereux RB, Roman MJ, Lee ET, Howard BV, Zhao J. Impact of biological aging on arterial aging in American Indians: findings from the Strong Heart Family Study. Aging (Albany NY). 2016 Aug; 8(8):1583-92.
    View on PubMed
  8. Wojcicki JM, Heyman MB, Elwan D, Lin J, Blackburn E, Epel E. Early exclusive breastfeeding is associated with longer telomeres in Latino preschool children. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Aug; 104(2):397-405.
    View on PubMed
  9. Jay KA, Smith DL, Blackburn EH. Early Loss of Telomerase Action in Yeast Creates a Dependence on the DNA Damage Response Adaptor Proteins. Mol Cell Biol. 2016 Jul 15; 36(14):1908-19.
    View on PubMed
  10. Hough CM, Bersani FS, Mellon SH, Epel ES, Reus VI, Lindqvist D, Lin J, Mahan L, Rosser R, Burke H, Coetzee J, Nelson JC, Blackburn EH, Wolkowitz OM. Leukocyte telomere length predicts SSRI response in major depressive disorder: A preliminary report. Mol Neuropsychiatry. 2016 Jul; 2(2):88-96.
    View on PubMed
  11. Leung CW, Laraia BA, Coleman-Phox K, Bush NR, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Adler NE, Epel ES. Sugary beverage and food consumption, and leukocyte telomere length maintenance in pregnant women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2016 Jun 15.
    View on PubMed
  12. Chang J, Blackburn E, Ivashko O, Holmes AT, Christensen NB, Hücker M, Liang R, Bonn DA, Hardy WN, Rütt U, Zimmermann MV, Forgan EM, Hayden SM. Magnetic field controlled charge density wave coupling in underdoped YBa2Cu3O6+x. Nat Commun. 2016; 7:11494.
    View on PubMed
  13. Wojcicki JM, Shiboski S, Heyman MB, Elwan D, Lin J, Blackburn E, Epel E. Telomere length change plateaus at 4 years of age in Latino children: associations with baseline length and maternal change. Mol Genet Genomics. 2016 Jun; 291(3):1379-89.
    View on PubMed
  14. Lin J, Cheon J, Brown R, Coccia M, Puterman E, Aschbacher K, Sinclair E, Epel E, Blackburn EH. Systematic and Cell Type-Specific Telomere Length Changes in Subsets of Lymphocytes. J Immunol Res. 2016; 2016:5371050.
    View on PubMed
  15. Rasgon N, Lin KW, Lin J, Epel E, Blackburn E. Telomere length as a predictor of response to Pioglitazone in patients with unremitted depression: a preliminary study. Transl Psychiatry. 2016; 6:e709.
    View on PubMed
  16. Matsuguchi T, Blackburn E. The yeast telomerase RNA, TLC1, participates in two distinct modes of TLC1-TLC1 association processes in vivo. PeerJ. 2016; 4:e1534.
    View on PubMed
  17. Kensler TW, Spira A, Garber JE, Szabo E, Lee JJ, Dong Z, Dannenberg AJ, Hait WN, Blackburn E, Davidson NE, Foti M, Lippman SM. Transforming Cancer Prevention through Precision Medicine and Immune-oncology. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2016 Jan; 9(1):2-10.
    View on PubMed
  18. Forgan EM, Blackburn E, Holmes AT, Briffa AK, Chang J, Bouchenoire L, Brown SD, Liang R, Bonn D, Hardy WN, Christensen NB, Zimmermann MV, Hücker M, Hayden SM. The microscopic structure of charge density waves in underdoped YBa2Cu3O6.54 revealed by X-ray diffraction. Nat Commun. 2015; 6:10064.
    View on PubMed
  19. Blackburn EH, Epel ES, Lin J. Human telomere biology: A contributory and interactive factor in aging, disease risks, and protection. Science. 2015 Dec 4; 350(6265):1193-8.
    View on PubMed
  20. Wojcicki JM, Olveda R, Heyman MB, Elwan D, Lin J, Blackburn E, Epel E. Cord blood telomere length in Latino infants: relation with maternal education and infant sex. J Perinatol. 2016 Mar; 36(3):235-41.
    View on PubMed

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