January 10, 2003

MEDIA CONTACT: Joanna Downer
PHONE: 410-614-5105
E-MAIL: jdowner1@jhmi.edu

Hopkins Geneticist Honored by National Academy of Sciences 

Carol Greider, Ph.D., professor and interim director of molecular biology and genetics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has won the National Academy of Sciences' Richard Lounsbery Award for her outstanding scientific achievements.

Greider will receive a medal and a cash prize at an awards ceremony April 28 at the Academy's 140th annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The Academy selected Greider "for her pioneering biochemical and genetic studies of telomerase, the enzyme that maintains the ends of chromosomes…." Seventeen other scientists will be recognized as well.

Greider's career has focused on investigating basic biological questions, but the answers have turned out to have dramatic implications for disease research. Her first research question -- how chromosomes are copied in a single-celled pond-dwelling critter (Tetrahymena) -- led to her discovery of telomerase as a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley in 1984.

Until then, telomerase had only been postulated to exist, but now scientists know the enzyme is found in all organisms with "linear" chromosomes -- from Tetrahymena to humans. The role of chromosome ends themselves, the telomeres, has been uncovered -- cells stop dividing when their telomeres get too short -- and the important role of telomerase in cancer has been established -- cancer cells activate telomerase so they can divide indefinitely.

"At the time, we didn't expect that telomerase would have all these implications or applications -- our initial discovery was driven by basic curiosity," says Greider. "Research into fundamental questions of biology first advances our basic understanding of how things work, but somewhere down the road there is almost always an important health- or disease-related implication. Basic research is vitally important."

Much of what was first learned about telomerase in both normal and cancer cells came from Greider and her colleagues, and she continues to investigate the fundamental biology of telomerase and role of telomere length in cancer cells.

Greider received her bachelor's degree in biology from the University of California at Santa Barbara and her Ph.D. in molecular biology from Berkeley in 1987. She then was a fellow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and attained full investigator status there before joining Johns Hopkins in July 1997.

The Richard Lounsbery Award, given annually since 1979, recognizes extraordinary scientific achievement in biology and medicine and is open in alternate years to young American and French scientists. The award was established by Vera Lounsbery in memory of her husband. The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter.

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