Blackburn, Greider, Szostak share Lasker

Team is honored for pioneering telomerase research

By | September 18, 2006

The 2006 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research is shared by Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, Carol Greider at Johns Hopkins University, and Jack Szostak of Harvard Medical School for their research on telomerase, the enzyme responsible for maintaining the length of linear chromosomes. In addition, Joseph Gall of the Carnegie Institution is being honored for his lifetime of discovery and innovation as a founder of modern cell biology, an inventor of in situ hybridization and an early champion of women in science. The foundation awards Gall the biannual Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science. The Award for Clinical Medical Research is bestowed on Aaron T. Beck, emeritus professor of the University of Pennsylvania, for pioneering cognitive therapy and transforming the field of psychiatry. This year, the Lasker Awards, administered by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, focused on honoring scientists who expanded scientific horizons by "pursuing curious observations, devising bold experiments, rigorously testing ideas, throwing aside conventional thought and working with great persistence," said Joseph L. Goldstein, chairman of the selection committee. The recipients will be honored on September 29 at a luncheon at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. Each award carries a $100,000 stipend. Blackburn recalls that she first encountered telomeres in the late 1970s during her postdoc in the lab of fellow Lasker-winner Gall, then at Yale University. Capitalizing on the large number of minichromosomes found in Tetrahymena, she sequenced the ends of the DNA and found repeated telomere sequences. By 1980, Blackburn was running her own lab at the University of California, Berkeley, when she met Szostak, a yeast geneticist, at a conference. They decided to put Tetrahymena telomeric repeats on non-endogenous linear DNA in budding yeast to see if these repeats would protect DNA that would otherwise be destroyed. Szostak ran the DNA on a gel and found that the DNA was indeed protected. "It was the only time in my career when I have had such immediate, exciting, clear-cut results," he told The Scientist. The yeast study, with other experiments, led Blackburn and Szostak to postulate that an enzyme made telomeres Greider entered Blackburn's lab as a graduate student. She purified the telomerase protein and showed its enzymatic activity. Later, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, she isolated and characterized the RNA gene that encodes for the telomeric template. Szostak continued to study telomerase in yeast and showed that without the protein, the chromosomes shorten and the cells eventually senesce. Gall, the recipient of the Special Achievement Award, said he is in some ways surprised to be labeled as a champion of women in science. "I haven't made any distinction between women and men who have come into my laboratory," he told The Scientist. "I took people that I thought were intelligent, eager to work and interested. I turned down students of both sexes if I didn't feel they were likely candidates." Beck, the winner of the clinical research award, trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst, but soon realized that many of his patients' troubles stemmed from negative thought patterns that "were often distortions of reality that could be corrected," he told The Scientist in an E-mail. He developed a method of teaching patients to defuse negative thoughts, which became the foundation for cognitive therapy. He also tested the method against the most effective antidepressant used at the time in a tightly controlled, randomized clinical trial that set a new standard for evaluating the effectiveness of psychiatric treatments. Beck is also known for developing the widely used Beck Depression Inventory, which consists of multiple-choice questions that are answered by patients to gauge the severity of their depression. Juhi Yajnik Links within this article: Elizabeth Blackburn Carol Greider Jack Szostak (Lab) Jeffrey M. Perkel, "Telomeres as the Key to Cancer," The Scientist, May 27, 2002 Joseph Gall Aaron T. Beck Lasker Foundation Joseph L. Goldstein C. Bahls, "First Person: Elizabeth Blackburn," The Scientist, March 24, 2003. Gall HistCite Blackburn HistCite C.W. Greider and E.H. Blackburn, "A telomeric sequence in the RNA of Tetrahymena telomerase required for telomere repeat synthesis." Nature 337:331-7, Jan 26, 1989. PM_ID: 2463488 J. Lucentini, "Is This Life?" The Scientist, January 1, 2006. J. Szostak and E. Blackburn, "Cloning yeast telomeres on linear plasmid vectors," Cell, May 1982. PM_ID: 6286143 Szostak HistCite Greider HistCite C. Greider and E. Blackburn. "Identification of a specific telomere terminal transferase activity in Tetrahymena extracts," Cell, December 1985. PM_ID: 3907856 Beck HistCite

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