Carol Greider, who graduated from UCSB as an undergraduate in 1983, was named the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine yesterday for her contributions to cancer research.
Greider will share the preeminent award with her supervisor Elizabeth H. Blackburn, a professor of biology and physiology at UC San Francisco, and Jack W. Szostak, a professor of genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Their research focused on chromosomes, more specifically the ends of chromosomes known as telomeres, which have important implications for cancer research.
According to a press release, Greider graduated from UCSB’s College of Creative Studies with a Bachelor’s Degree in biology, then went on to earn a Ph.D. in molecular biology from UC Berkeley in 1987, where she researched under the watch of Blackburn. Presently, Greider works as a professor of molecular biology and genetics at John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md.
Leslie Wilson, a professor of molecular biology at UCSB, ran a laboratory at UCSB in the 1980s that Greider worked in as an undergraduate under the direct supervision of Dr. David F. Asai. Greider’s achievement is world-class, Wilson said, and very valuable.
“It’s highly deserved,” Wilson said. “She and her former mentor, who she shared the prize with, Elizabeth Blackburn, made a major contribution to our understanding of chromosome structure and how cells age, which is highly deserving of the Nobel Prize.”
Foremost, Wilson said, the three researchers were selected for the Nobel Prize because of their discovery of relationships between the length of telomeres, which shorten each time a cell divides, essentially providing a timetable for the cell’s life, and the proliferation of cancer cells, whose telomeres do not shorten.
“That’s what stands out most clearly in people’s minds,” Wilson said. “Their discovery has the potential for developing drugs that can be used to treat cancer. As normal cells age, the structure at the end of chromosomes become shorter, but part of what makes cancer cells immortal is that they don’t. If they can figure out how to modify telomere lengths with drugs, you can potentially interfere with the proliferation of cancer cells.”
Bruce Tiffney, dean of the College of Creative Studies, said the newly-crowned Nobel laureate’s achievement may be partially linked to her time spent at UCSB developing research skills.
“Her focus is in basic research, a focus she picked up at a very young age as a CCS graduate,” Tiffney said. “Les [Wilson] made a comment a little earlier today that many of the techniques she used as a graduate student ¬– that ultimately led to her winning the prize — she learned at UCSB. She got some of her training right here, then went on to apply it.”