Monday, May 5, 2008

Two Female Scientists Win the Prestigious Albany Medical Center Prize

Photo Credit

For the first time since its inception, the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research was awarded to two women (Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, and Dr. Joan Steitz of Yale University). Worth $500,000, the Albany Medical Center Prize is one of the largest financial prizes for medical research in the United States. The size of the award is second only to the Nobel Prize ($1.4million).

Dr. Blackburn’s research focuses on telomeres, the ends of chromosomes. These special “caps” help maintain chromosome size as cells divide, and prevent chromosome shortening which is associated with aging. Importantly, they also are key to the longevity of cancer cells, so a deeper understanding of their biology may lead to new ways to treat cancer. The enzyme activity that maintains telomeres is called “telomerase.” Dr. Steitz discovered snRNPs (called “snurps”), which are small pieces of RNA that help splice introns (intervening sequences) out of our genes. Telomerase and snRNPs are fascinating because they are both examples of enzymes composed of RNA (most enzymes are proteins). RNA is thought by many evolutionary biologists to be the first large molecule in the development of life, because it can both carry genetic information AND function as an enzyme.

Congratulations to Drs. Steitz and Blackburn for this terrific award!


Anonymous said...

girl power!

rlbates said...

Now you've been tagged.

Anonymous said...

Hi david. I have an unrelated question - and was wondering if you had any insight. I'm a medical student, and recently we had a lecture about pregnant women receiving chemotherapy. The lecturer was saying that under the current regimens, and limiting chemo to the second and third trimester, the babies are completely healthy and normal (and bald). However, I am very curious if there is any information at all about the long term complications of fetal chemo exposure. Wouldn't one assume the childhood or early adult cancer rates would be higher, similar to the patters seen in secondary cancers in survivors? I know chemo during pregnancy is relatively new, and there isn't so much long term data on the children that are born, but isn't it reasonable to assume this cohort will have a higher incidence of leukemia?! I'm hoping to go into peds heme-onc, and am curious if in a few years I will start seeing these babies as patients.

Doctor David said...

Thanks, Ramona! Now I have to come up with an appropriate 6 words...

To the anonymous medical student: that's an outstanding question. There is a good amount of data that chemotherapy in the first trimester is terrible (ie. lethal) to the developing fetus (in fact, methotrexate can be used specifically to terminate pregnancies). I'm not yet aware of any data on cancer rates in kids who were exposed to chemo in utero. You are totally correct, though... I would predict a higher than average rate of cancer in those kids (especially leukemias). Now you have me intrigued, so I'm going to have to look into it. I'll let you know what I find.

Thanks for reading and for the great question!