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Vol. LXII, No. 3
February 5, 2010

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2009 Nobel Laureate Greider Delivers Trent Lecture

  NHGRI director Dr. Eric Green and NIH chief of staff Dr. Kathy Hudson (r) welcome Nobel Prize winner Dr. Carol Greider to NIH.  
  NHGRI director Dr. Eric Green and NIH chief of staff Dr. Kathy Hudson (r) welcome Nobel Prize winner Dr. Carol Greider to NIH.  

Nobel Prize winner Dr. Carol Greider presented the seventh annual Jeffrey M. Trent Lecture in Cancer Research on Jan. 19 in Masur Auditorium. A capacity audience assembled, eager to hear the lecture that had been postponed twice last year—once due to President Barack Obama’s inaugural NIH visit in September and again in December when Greider traveled to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony.

The Daniel Nathans professor and director of the department of molecular biology and medicine at Johns Hopkins Institute for Biomedical Sciences, Greider won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.” She shared the prize with Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California at San Francisco and Dr. Jack Szostak of Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Greider’s lecture, “Telomerase and the Consequences of Telomere Dysfunction,” was her first public lecture since receiving the Nobel. NHGRI director Dr. Eric Green, the lecture’s founder, initially invited Greider to NIH last year and it was obvious that he was excited to have her finally give the lecture.

“If you look at your program, you will note that the date of this lecture was Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009,” said Green in opening remarks, describing how he had to reschedule the lecture. “Then Carol had to win the Nobel Prize. She explained she had to go to Sweden for the week. I understood when she called to say that we would have to postpone again.”

Green then turned the podium over to NIH chief of staff Dr. Kathy Hudson to introduce the guest speaker. Hudson and Greider have been friends for 25 years. They met while attending graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. Hudson shared photos and humorous stories of Greider from that period. To the crowd’s delight, she also had pictures of the Nobel Prize ceremony, which she attended as a guest of Greider’s.

“When I told a friend at NIH that I was going to miss a meeting because I had to go to Stockholm, she said I have the best girlfriend story friend won the Nobel Prize,” Hudson said.

Greider, an expert on telomerase, delivers NHGRI’s annual Trent Lecture.
Greider, an expert on telomerase, delivers NHGRI’s annual Trent Lecture.

Greider then took the podium. “It’s always good to come somewhere and talk some science,” she remarked.

She began by recounting her days as a doctoral student in Blackburn’s laboratory at Berkeley. That was where she initially discovered and characterized the activity of the enzyme telomerase that maintains telomeres, from the ciliate Tetrahymena. Telomeres are repetitive stretches of DNA that protect and are located at the ends of chromosomes.

Greider described subsequent years, recalling how as an investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the early 1990s she worked with Dr. Calvin Harley to show that human telomeres shorten progressively in primary human cells. This work, combined with other telomere research being done at the time, illustrated the critical role of telomere length and its role in cell aging (senescence), cell death (apoptosis) and cancer.

In 1997, she moved her laboratory to Johns Hopkins. There, her group continued to study the biochemistry of telomerase and determined the secondary structure of the human telomerase RNA. She also expanded her work on a mouse model of the rare disorder dyskeratosis congenita and stem cell failure in response to short telomeres. Greider currently studies both the biochemistry of telomeres and telomerase as well as the cellular organismal consequences of short telomeres.

The progressive shortening of telomeres corresponds to DNA damage and age-related diseases. In addition to their association with cancer, shortened telomeres can lead to liver disease, bone marrow failure and immunologic disorders.

Greider said that she and her research team continue to work on understanding such disorders by attempting to find ways to re-establish telomere length. Her team is also studying the effect on human health of short telomere length when combined with environmental factors.

The remainder of her lecture outlined implications of telomere and telomerase research both for cancer cells, which undergo frequent replication, and for tissue- specific stem cells that may lead to therapies in the future. The lecture may be viewed online at NIHRecord Icon

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