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

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Cancer Center Membership

Program Member » Breast Oncology» Developmental Therapeutics

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. 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
  2. Transforming Cancer Prevention through Precision Medicine and Immune-oncology. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2016 Jan; 9(1):2-10.
    View on PubMed
  3. The microscopic structure of charge density waves in underdoped YBa2Cu3O6.54 revealed by X-ray diffraction. Nat Commun. 2015; 6:10064.
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  4. Human telomere biology: A contributory and interactive factor in aging, disease risks, and protection. Science. 2015 Dec 4; 350(6265):1193-8.
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  5. Peripheral telomere length and hippocampal volume in adolescents with major depressive disorder. Transl Psychiatry. 2015; 5:e676.
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  6. Movement-Based Behaviors and Leukocyte Telomere Length among US Adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 Nov; 47(11):2347-52.
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  7. Association of dimensional psychological health measures with telomere length in male war veterans. J Affect Disord. 2016 Jan 15; 190:537-42.
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  8. Discrimination, mental health, and leukocyte telomere length among African American men. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016 Jan; 63:10-6.
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  9. Telomere lengthening after three weeks of an intensive insight meditation retreat. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015 Nov; 61:26-7.
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  10. Telomere length is inversely correlated with urinary stress hormone levels in healthy controls but not in un-medicated depressed individuals - Preliminary findings. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015 Nov; 61:61.
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  11. Leukocyte telomere length and mortality in the national health and nutrition examination survey, 1999-2002. Epidemiology. 2015 Jul; 26(4):528-35.
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  12. Mitochondrial DNA copy number is reduced in male combat veterans with PTSD. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2016 Jan 4; 64:10-7.
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  13. Automated Assay of Telomere Length Measurement and Informatics for 100,000 Subjects in the Genetic Epidemiology Research on Adult Health and Aging (GERA) Cohort. Genetics. 2015 Aug; 200(4):1061-72.
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  14. Telomere length is associated with oppositional defiant behavior and maternal clinical depression in Latino preschool children. Transl Psychiatry. 2015; 5:e581.
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  15. Maternal Folate Concentration in Early Pregnancy and Newborn Telomere Length. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015; 66(4):202-8.
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  16. Psychiatric disorders and leukocyte telomere length: Underlying mechanisms linking mental illness with cellular aging. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Aug; 55:333-64.
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  17. Race-Ethnicity, Poverty, Urban Stressors, and Telomere Length in a Detroit Community-based Sample. J Health Soc Behav. 2015 Jun; 56(2):199-224.
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  18. Early telomerase inactivation accelerates aging independently of telomere length. Cell. 2015 Feb 26; 160(5):928-39.
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  19. PBMC telomerase activity, but not leukocyte telomere length, correlates with hippocampal volume in major depression. Psychiatry Res. 2015 Apr 30; 232(1):58-64.
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  20. Maternal estriol concentrations in early gestation predict infant telomere length. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Jan; 100(1):267-73.
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