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Copywrite 2001-2004, California Science Center

Elizabeth Helen Blackburn, Ph.D.
California Scientist of the Year 1999


Institution: University of California at San Francisco
Department: Microbiology and Immunology
Principal research interest: Molecular biology

Dr. Blackburn was the first person to study telomeres, which can be found at both ends of each chromosome in all living things. Chromosomes are the elements in living cells that carry our genetic code, and telomeres help to protect the chromosomes. During her study of telomeres, Dr. Blackburn discovered telomerase, the enzyme that manufactures telomeres. Telomerase has been linked to the biological clock that determines the life span of cells. When telomerase isn't around, cells stop making copies of themselves, and then they get old and die and are replaced by new cells. Normal body cells usually don't make telomerase, so they don't reproduce when they are old. But cancerous cells often make more telomerase than non-cancerous cells, helping the cancerous cells to live longer and reproduce more. So finding compounds that inhibit telomerase may help in the treatment of cancer. Lloyd H. Smith, the Associate Dean of The University of California at San Francisco's School of Medicine, said this about Dr. Blackburn: "Her contributions created a whole new field in molecular biology--the molecular description of telomeres--that has had an outstanding implication for both disease and aging."

Dr. Blackburn's Lab Site:

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