As time ages, new discoveries emerge. As education advances, innovations are created. These innovations facilitate our daily lives, and cause us to live more efficient, spend less time performing certain tasks, and accelerate the speed at which we do work. History has proven that one person is sufficient to cause change in the way that we live. The medical field has been innovated countless times and each improvement revolutionizes the way doctors treat patients. Thanks to medical researchers, medical science has made groundbreaking advancements in the treatment of diseases.
Diseases such as polio and black fever that once killed in masses are virtually nonexistent in today’s world. Even though methods of treatment have improved, there are still a number of diseases that are a mystery, and scientists have not yet comprehended because the human body is complex and difficult to understand. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and over 500,000 people fell victim to this disease in the year 2007 (“Cancer Statistics” 2010). Imagine a world where cancer is no longer a disease that ravages the lives of millions of people, a world where diseases associated with aging can be controlled.
Sounds like an idea from a Star Trek movie, right. The mental picture that comes to mind is likely a contraption, which encircles an individual as he or she floats, and is healing the cells of his or her body. The cure for cancer is on its way to be release from the realm of imagination and into the world of possibility. How far away is this cure? Elizabeth Blackburn, an Australian born scientist, is a scientist that can provide this answer through her research on DNA and cellular reproduction. She is on her way to developing a cure for this disease and unlocking the mysteries of aging. Dr.
Elizabeth Blackburn was born in Hobart, Australia in 1948. She was one of seven children. Both of her parents were physicians, and she was exposed to the science field at an early age. In an interview with Discover Magazine, she stated, “So many members of my extended family were doctors; there was this expectation that I would be a physician” (“Elizabeth Blackburn Biography”). However, she did not feel obligated to be a doctor because of her ancestry. In an interview with Readers Digest she stated that her parents “would sometimes talk about patients and their stories, but it was science that captivated me
intellectually. It was a very natural thing for me. At one stage I thought I’d like to be a musician, but I didn’t play the piano well enough”. She did decide to follow in the footsteps of her parents and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from the University of Melbourne in Australia. She later decided to travel to England to study at Cambridge, where she completed her Ph. D. Dr. Blackburn joined the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of California, and she oversaw a laboratory of sixteen researchers.
She pursued further educational endeavors and earned a post-doctoral research position in molecular and cellular biology at Yale University to increase her comprehension of biology. She was later employed by the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley to do research. Dr. Blackburn met a biology graduate named Carol Greider; this person aided her in taking her research to the next level a few years after arriving at Berkeley. Their collaboration unlocked the mysteries of the telomere’s regulating enzyme and led to the discovery of a new enzyme. What are telomere and telomerase?
During the process called mitosis, a cell replicates and creates a genetic copy of its DNA. In order to ensure that the cells genetics can be safely stored and capable of replicating again, a special cap called the telomere protects them. Telomeres are controlled by the enzyme telomerase. A telomere is a repeating DNA sequence at the tips of the cell’s chromosomes and its main function is to prevent the chromosomal DNA from losing its DNA sequence that is inside the nucleus. “Telomerase is an enzyme made of RNA subunits that elongates chromosomes by adding the DNA sequence TTAGGG.
” However, the telomerase are activated only during the development stages of the body and it is inactive during the rest of one’s lifetime. If telomerase is activated in a cell, the cell will continue to grow and divide (“What are Telomeres and Telomerase”). Blackburn’s groundbreaking work on telomeric DNA launched the field of telomere research. Her research has revolutionized the way scientists view cancer and it will have a profound and long-lasting effect on science and society (“Elizabeth Blackburn Biography”). I discovered about Elizabeth Blackburn during the speech of a fellow classmate.
The reason that I became so enamored by her is because of what she has accomplished and what she can possibly contribute to the future of cancer research, and aging. I was not aware that scientists were making significant progress towards developing a cure for cancer. It provided me a sense of relief to know that we are close to a cure. Because I am extremely fascinated by medical science, I was persuaded to delve further into her research. The human body has always fascinated me and I have always wanted to learn of the mysteries that lie within.
It is one of the main reasons that I am fascinated by the television show House. Dr. House faces medical mysteries daily, but he always manages to solve the patient’s disease. It is not always easy, but somehow he discovers a cure or treatment for the patient at the right time. What interests me about the television show is the attempt to solve the mysteries of the human body through a series of clues. Even though I was not solving the mystery of telomerase—an enzyme that helps with cell replication—with Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, through my research, I was able to retrace her footsteps.
In the process, I felt as if I was solving it besides her, which gave me satisfaction. It feels rewarding to solve a mystery that no one else was able to solve I was able to sense how she felt when she finally unlocked the mystery. What also intrigued me about Dr. Blackburn is the fact that she has proprietary research. When I researcheed about other scientists who are researching cancer, they are either using Dr. Blackburn’s research as a guide to further their initiative or they are attempting to discover a new method, which has a strong possibility of not yielding positive results.
I also admire her ethics and her dedication to her research. She is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, since she advocated an unpopular notion that she thought was right. Before Dr. Blackburn’s research, scientists were not aware of the existence of the enzyme telomerase. While researching, Dr. Blackburn believed that an enzyme regulated the replication of the telomere and would continuously rebuild the ends of chromosomes to protect them. The identity of this enzyme remained a mystery to many scientists.
Its existence was not yet proven, and its functions in the body were hypothesized and not yet comprehended. To understand the aging process and cancer she would need to unravel the mystery of this unknown enzyme. Understanding this enzyme would unravel the mystery of degenerative diseases in which healthy young cells suddenly die, and of cancer (“What are Telomeres and telomerase”). How difficult would it to uncover this mystery? In an interview with Discover Magazine Dr. Blackburn stated, “We knew they carried genetic material and that the ends of chromosomes were protected in special ways.
But what did that mean? You have no clue. It was as if you were trying to look at something from 400,000 miles up. ” Blackburn had her work cut out for her; she had an almost impossible task to solve (Linda). The Telomeres are so small that it makes it nearly impossible to observe their functions Dr. Blackburn’s research on telomerase laid the foundation to better understand cancer. What is cancer? “Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues”.
A cancer cell originates inside a cell and in order to understand how a normal cell becomes it is helpful to understand a few basic of cell scientology. A cell functions similar to most leaves, when the leaves become old or damaged they die and are replaced with new leaves. The same concept can be applied to cells become when they becomes old; they create a new cell which is called the daughter cell through a process called mitosis. This process can sometimes go wrong, and the genetic material inside the cell can become damaged.
This produces a mutation that affects the cell’s growth and ability to divide. When this happens, cells do not die when they should, and they cause complications when daughter cells are created. The extra cells create a mass of tissue called a tumor (“What is Cancer”). Senescence is the process by which a cell becomes old and dies. It is because of the shortening of chromosomal telomeres that the chromosome reaches a length at which it cannot continue to divide. Telomerase has been detected in human cancer cells and is found to be 10-20 times more active than in normal body cells.
If telomerase activity were to be turned off, then telomeres in cancer cells would shorten, just like they do in normal body cells. This would prevent the cancer cells from dividing uncontrollably in their early stages of development (“What are Telomeres and Telomerase”). She continued to pursue researching telomerase and thought her dedication she discovered a link. Her Experiments confirmed that there was an enzyme, which she called telomerase and it confirmed that it was performing an important task, which was influencing telomere production (Linda).
Dr. Blackburn discovered that telomerase stops telomeres from shortening, however it cannot make cells immortal. Ten years ago, scientists thought that blocking the action of telomerase might cure cancer. The old way is that scientist knew that if telomerase were damaged, then the cells would eventually run down. Dr. Blackburn thought it just made cells proliferate, but now they are finding that it is pushing cells in other cancer promoting directions such as metastasis. Telomeric DNA looked different from anything scientist had ever seen before.
Its molecular compositions entered territories unfamiliar to scientists. Scientists observed that the DNA fragments would get longer and longer. They are protective caps like shoestring tips on the ends of chromosomes that house our genetic makeup (Linda). Telomerase is more than an enzyme that allows cells to multiply, but it can affect the makeup of cancer cells. There thus is completely new potential for controlling such growth down the line (Linda). The link between telomerase and cancer is that telomere regulates cell division. Cancer is a disease in which the cells divide uncontrollably. If Dr.
Blackburn Discovers a way to manipulate telomerase to cause the cancer cells to cease replicating it would cause the tumor to decelerate in growth, which I my opinion would cure the cancer. Discoveries have one major drawback, it takes a tremendous amount of time to conduct experiments and evaluate the results to determine which treatment worked. Sometimes it happens by chance but I believe that Dr. Blackburn has the capacity to uncover such a link, and because she is dedicated and passionate about her research, it is just a matter of time before her discovery makes headline news in the newspaper.
Telomerase not only has properties that can alter cell division but also cell aging. The length of the telomere determines the lifespan of the cell. Telomere maintenance is tied to the reasons why most people die. Telomerase are related to aging and health of not only the cells but also the human body. The enzyme telomerase seems to accelerate certain diseases of aging. The more telomerase you have within the normal range, the less of a risk you have for age-related diseases. But making cells immortal won’t make humans immortal (“What are Telomere and Telomerase).
Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn is in the process of unlocking the mysteries of telomerase. In the future, her research in the area of telomerase could uncover valuable information to combat aging, fight cancer, and even improve the quality of medical treatment. These tiny strips of DNA caped at the ends of the chromosomes could create an effective solution for the diseases that ravages humanity (Linda). Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn is a leader in the area of telomere and telomerase research.
In 1984, she co-discovered the ribonucleoprotein enzyme telomerase, which opened up new potentials in cancer research and therapy. Telomerase was believed to once prohibit cells from dividing. However, her research proved otherwise. Blackburn also advocates the study of embryonic stem cell. She stated that animals and now human studies it has been found that these cells have not only a very striking capacity to self-regenerate but also, under the right conditions, to form a whole variety of different cell types (Linda). Stem cells are a different field of biology that she is currently researching. Dr.
Blackburn has been honored with many major awards in science: The Lasker, The Gruber, The Gairdner prize, and in 2007 she made the list of Times 100 most influential people (Ja, Chi). Blackburn has published over 150 papers on telomere and telomerase and has won numerous awards for her work. Dr. Blackburn and her lead researchers, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak, were awarded the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for the discovery of telomerase, “the enzyme that maintains chromosome termini, and the demonstration that unlimited cell division relies on continual maintenance of these ends” (Lunbdlad).
Cancer is a disease that ravages the lives of numerous individuals and currently we are at the mercy of its devastating hands. It chooses its victims haphazardly, and no one knows who is next. Almost every person knows someone who has been affected by cancer during his or her lifetime. When it comes to cell research Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn is the premier individual to discover new ways to look at this scientology. During a short period, she discovered an enzyme, telomerase, and led the way for cancer research. She discovered a link between aging and telomerase.
With her work, she is creating a path for others to discover a link and possibly a cure for diseases that was once believed to be incurable such as cancer and it can even prolong a life. Looking forward in the future a cure for the disease that ravages so many is existent. With a positive mindset, I am hopeful that strong-minded scientists will discover a cure for cancer. The future is bright and there is no telling what lies there.
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Signy, Ellen. “Exclusive Interview With Professor Elizabeth Blackburn. ” Readers Digest. The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. n. d Web. 30 Apr. 2011. Steve, Heilig. “Stem Cell Science and Politics : A Talk With Elizabeth Blackburn. CQ. ” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 14. 2 (2005): 214-217. ProQuest. Web. 5 Apr, 2011 “What Are Telomeres and Telomerase. ” Southwestern Medical Center. The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. “What is Cancer . ” National Cancer Institute National Cancer Institute . n. d. Web 20 Apr 2011.