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Trio Awarded Nobel Medicine Prize

October 5, 2009

An American team of researchers was awarded the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday for their discovery in the process of cellular aging.

Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak were chosen to share the award for their role in showing “how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase,” the Nobel Assembly said Monday.

The team showed how chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they can be protected against degradation.

“The Nobel Laureates have shown that the solution is to be found in the ends of the chromosomes ““ the telomeres ““ and in an enzyme that forms them ““ telomerase,” said the Assembly.

The team’s discovery has led to a growth of new therapeutic studies and applications.

Additionally, the announcement makes Blackburn and Greider the ninth and tenth women to ever win the award since 1901. It is also the first time two women have shared the prize.

“They’re not being honored because they are women. They are being honored because they’ve made a fundamentally important discovery,” Nobel committee secretary Goeran Hansson told Swedish news agency TT.

“I just think that the recognition for curiosity-driven basic science is very, very nice,” said Greider.

“I felt very excited … and I thought this is very interesting, this is a very important result, and you don’t often feel that about a result,” Blackburn said of the team’s discovery in 1984.

Blackburn was fired by former President George W Bush’s Council on Bioethics for being outspoken in her criticism of his stance on embryonic stem cell research.

Dr. Jeremy Berg of the U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which funded some of the research, told Reuters that Szostak has grown into other fields of study since his work with telomerase.

“He is trying to figure out how he can make proto-cells and get them to copy their genetic material. That’s almost literally creating life in a test tube.”

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