Tasmanian Female Wins Nobel Prize

published  First Published: 05/10/2009
Article written by: Nigel Brookson

Australian scientist wins Nobel prize

Professor Blackburn enjoys the applause of colleagues at the University of California.

Tasmanian-born Professor Elizabeth Blackburn has become the first Australian woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Professor Blackburn has already made history for changing the way scientists think about ageing and disease with her groundbreaking work on cells.

Now she and her US-based colleagues Carol Greider and Jack Szostak have been jointly awarded the 100th Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in recognition of their work.

But Professor Blackburn's win is also historic because she's the first female of Australia's handful of Nobel laureates.

The trio has been credited with creating a new field of science, with their investigation of chromosomes and the discovery of an enzyme which they named Telomerase.

Telomerase is almost like an anti-ageing solution - it is critical to the regeneration of cells, which are the building blocks of life. If cells cannot replenish, humans are more prone to disease.

"It's important for really all our cells and our bodies to get to a healthy old age," said Professor Blackburn.

But the enzyme also helps bad cancer cells grow, which means the Nobel laureates' work could also lead to new ways of treating cancer.

"It's helped people really understand the processes of disease in a whole new light, and so it's very much a continuing and progressing field," she said.

Professor Blackburn was born in Hobart in 1948 and did her undergraduate degree at Melbourne University, before going on to do a PhD at Cambridge.

She's been a professor of biology at the University of California in San Francisco since 1990, and is still asking questions. Her work is now focusing on the effect psychological stress has on cell regeneration.

Almost 800 people have been awarded a Nobel Prize since 1901. But Professor Blackburn and Carol Greider's award brings the number of female laureates to just 37.

Professor Blackburn says in her field there are plenty of talented women but their career options seem to dwindle after they finish their Postdoctoral studies.



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