Thirty-eight years ago on Christmas Day, Carol Greider made a Nobel Prize-worthy discovery.

“It was a holiday, so nobody was in the lab,” she recalled in an interview with Investor’s Business Daily.

Then a graduate student mentored by scientist Elizabeth Blackburn at UC Berkeley, Greider went home and listened to Bruce Springsteen to celebrate her experiment’s success after nearly a year of trial and error. Her discovery would shake the scientific world with implications for aging and cancer.

She was the first to classify the enzyme that maintains the length of telomeres, a repeating DNA sequence that caps and protects the ends of chromosomes. This enzyme, which Greider dubbed telomerase, plays a central role in regulating the cell cycle events that can make cells immortal or susceptible to aging.

Greider, distinguished professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at UC Santa Cruz and a Nobel Prize laureate in physiology or medicine, will discuss her groundbreaking research in her talk, “Telomeres and Telomerase: From Basic Science to Disease,” at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 24. The free, virtual public lecture is part of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC’s Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture Series. Attendees can tune in via Zoom at the institute’s website.

The series of free public lectures is named after Maury Strauss, a longtime community benefactor who recognizes the value of bringing thought leaders in science, medicine, and health to share insights from their work with the Roanoke community.

“Dr. Greider is a terrific example of a basic biologist whose insights and tenacity have led not only to a fundamental basic discovery of cell function, but also informs a broad range of innovations and insights into multiple diseases and the aging process," said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology. “We are very fortunate to be able to host her and have her share her profound insights and her journey of discovery with our entire community."

Decades after her initial discovery of telomerase, Greider continues to examine the enzyme’s purpose and how telomere length impacts DNA stability, aging, cancer, and degenerative diseases.

Each time a cell divides, the telomeres at the end of chromosomes get shorter – a byproduct of the DNA replication process. Telomerase counter-balances this shortening, maintaining a healthy telomere length.

Yet sometimes this enzyme becomes dysfunctional. In cancer cells, telomerase becomes activated and lengthens telomeres, which allows for untethered growth and proliferation. Conversely, if telomeres get too short, the cells die and there’s a loss of tissue renewal.

“The medical implications of telomerase and the telomeres of cancer and stem cells became apparent,” Greider said in a 2014 interview with UCTV.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, which Greider shared with Blackburn and Jack Szostak, she was also awarded the 2006 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the 2019 Association for Women in Science Pinnacle Award, and more than 30 additional prestigious awards and honors. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

She also served on a National Institutes of Health working group aimed to end sexual harassment, and was the first author of a policy paper, “Increasing Gender Diversity in the STEM Research Workforce,” published in Science in 2019.

Prior to moving her laboratory to UC Santa Cruz in 2020, Greider was the Daniel Nathans Professor and director of the department of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University. She has published over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers, book chapters, and policy papers. Her research publications have been cited more than 54,000 times.

To watch Greider’s virtual lecture and submit questions, tune in via Zoom at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s website.

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