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Blackburn To Give Mahoney Lecture, Mar. 12

Dr. Elizabeth H. Blackburn, professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics, University of California, San Francisco, will present the 17th annual Florence Mahoney Lecture on Aging on Wednesday, Mar. 12 at 3 p.m. Her title is "Telomeres: No End in Sight."

In the 1980's Blackburn and her colleagues discovered the unique RNA-protein enzyme telomerase, which rebuilds telomeres. She theorized that active telomerase is an important factor in maintaining the capacity of cells to proliferate. Cells stop dividing, she proposed, when their telomeres become critically short and consequently dysfunctional. Her discovery of telomerase is considered by some to be one of the most important achievements in molecular genetics.

Recently, however, she has accumulated evidence suggesting that the stability of telomere structure, apart from telomere length alone, might be important, too. In these studies, she discovered that some cells with extremely short, but structurally sound telomeres continue to proliferate, while others with long, but "frayed" telomeres undergo senescence.

Before the lecture, Dr. Robert Butler, first director of the National Institute on Aging and currently president and CEO of the International Longevity Center, and Dr. Richard Hodes, NIA director, will remember Mahoney, who died last Nov. 29 at age 103. She was a lifelong champion of health research and an unfaltering advocate for NIH and NIA. As a charter member of the National Advisory Council on Aging from 1974-1978, she contributed time, energy and enthusiasm to help ensure NIA's success.

Blackburn earned her B.Sc. (1970) and M.Sc. (1972) degrees from the University of Melbourne in Australia, and her Ph.D. (1975) from the University of Cambridge in England. She did postdoctoral work in molecular and cellular biology from 1975 to 1977 at Yale University.

In 1978, she joined the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, in the department of molecular biology. In 1990, she moved to the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of California, San Francisco, where she served as department chair. In addition to being professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics, she is also a non-resident fellow of the Salk Institute.

She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), the Royal Society of London (1992), the American Academy of Microbiology (1993) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2000). She was elected foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences in 1993, and is currently a member of the President's Council on Bioethics. A reception will follow her talk.

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