The fifth annual Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, an international award to recognize outstanding women scientists, has been awarded to Salk professor Vicki Lundblad, Ph.D., for her groundbreaking work in telomere biology. Telomeres are portions of DNA that are involved in the aging process.
Lundblad will share the prize with Salk nonresident fellow Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Ph.D., a professor at the University of California in San Francisco, and Carol W. Greider, Ph.D., a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The telomere trio will receive the award at a ceremony held at Rockefeller University next spring.
The prize was established by Nobel Laureate Paul Greengard, a professor at Rockefeller University and his wife, sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard.
As early as the 1930s and 1940s, scientists had suggested that chromosome ends were capped by special structures, so-called “telomeres,” from the Greek for “end” (telos) and “part” (meros), that would protect these fragile ends. But it was not until 1978, when Blackburn discovered that telomeres consist of a short, simple DNA motif repeated over and over again, that the precise makeup of telomeres was determined.
A decade later, Lundblad revealed that a defect in telomere replication fast-forwarded the cellular aging process in yeast cells till they could no longer divide and entered a zombie-like state called replicate senescence.
But cells can recover, as Lundblad also discovered, by activating an alternative lengthening mechanism to replenish chromosome ends in the absence of telomerase.
Lundblad’s discoveries have laid the groundwork for numerous studies on telomere maintenance in mammalian cells.
Lundblad, a native of California, earned a biochemistry degree from the University of California at Berkeley before she pursued graduate studies at Harvard. After postdoctoral studies at Harvard Medical School, she returned to the West Coast, joining Liz Blackburn’s lab at UC Berkeley. In 1991, Lundblad took her first faculty job at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and in 2006 joined the Salk faculty.