One of the three winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine announced Monday in Stockholm was honored here just last year with the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research. 2009 Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco shared the 2008 Albany Med Prize with Joan Steitz, Ph.D., of Yale University.
“No one who knows of Dr. Blackburn and her outstanding world-class research can be surprised by the Nobel committee’s announcement,” said James J. Barba, chairman of the Selection Committee of the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research and president and chief executive officer of Albany Medical Center. “It is no overstatement to say that Dr. Blackburn’s work in better elucidating the many factors involved in cellular aging may hold the key to prolonging life by helping to treat a variety of diseases and disorders from cancer to chronic stress,” Barba added.
Dr. Blackburn’s selection as co-recipient of the $500,000 Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, America’s largest prize in medicine, recognized her groundbreaking discoveries of the molecular nature of telomeres, the simple DNA sequences that constitute “the bookends at the end of chromosomes that hold everything in place”—and her discovery of the ribonucleoprotein enzyme telomerase, which fortifies telomeres. According to Monday’s announcement by the Nobel committee, Dr. Blackburn’s work set the stage for research suggesting that cancer cells use telomerase to sustain their uncontrolled growth. Scientists are now studying whether drugs that block the enzyme can fight the disease. In addition, scientists believe that the DNA erosion the enzyme repairs might play a role in some illnesses, according to the Nobel announcement.
The Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research was established in 2000 by the late Morris “Marty” Silverman to honor scientists whose work has translated from “the bench to the bedside” resulting in better outcomes for patients. A $50 million gift commitment from the Marty and Dorothy Silverman Foundation to Albany Medical Center provides for the Prize to be awarded annual for 100 years.