October 5, 2009
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
On behalf of all of us, and more than 120,000 Johns Hopkins alumni, we add our congratulations to those pouring in from around the world for Carol Greider, who today was named co-winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Carol, the Daniel Nathans Professor and Director of Molecular Biology and Genetics in the Johns Hopkins Institute of Basic Biomedical Sciences in the university’s School of Medicine, is the 33rd person associated with Johns Hopkins to win a Nobel, one of the world’s most prestigious prizes. She is being recognized for her landmark 1984 discovery of the enzyme telomerase, which maintains the ends of chromosomes–known as telomeres–and protects them from damage. Her work has laid the foundation for novel studies connecting telomerase and telomeres to human cancer and diseases of aging.
Studying a single-celled, pond-dwelling organism called Tetrahymena thermophila, which contains many minichromosomes and provides more chromosome ends than other types of cells, Carol discovered that Tetrahymena cells contain an enzyme that adds small, repetitive DNA sequences to the telomeres, keeping them the same length. Carol and her graduate advisor, Elizabeth Blackburn, named the enzyme telomere terminal transferase, later shortened to telomerase.
Carol and her colleagues then found that telomere shortening does indeed occur in human cells when telomerase is inactive or in short supply, suggesting that short telomeres limit a cell’s ability to divide and that blocking telomerase function might limit the growth of cancer cells.
Thanks to her work, we now have a greater understanding of a number of conditions caused by malfunctions in telomerase, and scientists throughout the world are putting that knowledge to work in their research on treatments.
Carol’s profoundly important work, its impact on science and its increasing implications for human health exemplify the Johns Hopkins mission in advancing knowledge for the sake of our world. We are pleased that the Nobel Foundation has chosen to honor her, and we offer her our heartiest congratulations.
Ronald J. Daniels
The Johns Hopkins University
Edward D. Miller, M.D.
Dean of the Medical Faculty
CEO, Johns Hopkins Medicine