This will be the first of several posts on this years Nobel Prize Awards.
Congratulations to Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, and Jack Wzostak, winners of this years prize in Physiology or Medicine. Their work involved understanding the synthesis and function of telemeres, which are a structure found on the ends of chromosomes that protects their integrity. in eukaryotic cells. Telemeres replicate, but ultimately the process stops because one of the strands of the double helix grows a little shorter with each replication. This relates to the aging of cells, since when one of the strands grows too short, the cell can no longer divide.
The researchers who won the Nobel Prize discovered and worked with the enzyme telemerase, which controls the adding of sequences to the shorter strand so that the two strands remain of equal length. Telemerase is only active early in a cells life, and its inactivation is what causes cells to stop growing. It was discovered, quite surprisingly that the replication of these added sequences is controlled by RNA.
Understanding how telemerase works is important in understanding cancer. In order for a cell to replicate again telemerase must be reactivated. Reactivated telemerase is found in most cancer cells, and researchers are working to find drugs that inhibit it.
Here's a good article on the prize winners and their research.
The website for Dr. Blackburn's lab is:
Here is the announcement of the prize, and the winners discussing their work.