NIGMS-Supported Research Garners Top U.S. Science Prize


Four grantees of NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences have received what many consider “America’s Nobel Prize””Lasker Awards for contributions to medical research and its enterprise.

The 2006 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research honors three scientists for their prediction and discovery of telomerase, an enzyme that protects the ends of chromosomes from structural degradation and could lead to a better understanding of cancer development and the aging process. The researchers are:

  • Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, and an NIGMS grantee since 1978;
  • Carol W. Greider, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., who received her first NIGMS grant in 1989; and
  • Jack W. Szostak, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass., an NIGMS grantee for more than 20 years.

 These researchers performed seminal studies on the structure of telomeres, caps at the ends of chromosomes that prevent these bundles of DNA from sticking together and dividing abnormally. Through a series of experiments, Blackburn and Greider identified telomerase, the enzyme responsible for adding repeated nucleotide sequences to the end of each telomere. Szostak offered the first experimental proof that the inability to replenish shortening telomeres causes the structures to shrink, implying that cells with this inability would stop dividing and die. He also identified a gene responsible for unusually short telomeres in a strain of yeast.

Since these discoveries, scientists worldwide have been exploring ways to turn on or off telomerase, possibly leading to methods for curing cancer and slowing the aging process.
“This research on a basic biological process, which at the time had no known application to human health, has proven to be an important breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms of diseases such as cancer,” says Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D, NIGMS director. “It clearly shows the value of basic research in helping to establish the causes and cures for certain diseases.”

The 2006 Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science honors Joseph G. Gall, Ph.D., of the Carnegie Institution in Baltimore, Md., for helping found modern cell biology, pioneering the field of chromosome structure and function, and championing women in science. Gall, who was an NIGMS grantee for more than 30 years, is best known for developing in situ hybridization, a technique that scientists still use today for pinpointing particular genetic sequences within tissues, nuclei, or chromosomes.

“Dr. Gall has not only contributed significantly to our understanding of subcellular organelles through decades of discovery, but he has created tremendous opportunities for women in the field of cell biology,” said Catherine Lewis, Ph.D., director of the NIGMS Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics. 

Since 1946 when the first Lasker Award was presented, 71 recipients have later received Nobel Prizes for their scientific accomplishments.

More information on the 2006 Lasker Medical Research Awards is available on the Foundation’s Web site at

Writer: Emily Carlson

To arrange an interview with NIGMS director Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., contact the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at 301-496-7301.

NIGMS (, a component of the National Institutes of Health, supports basic biomedical research that is the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)--The Nation's Medical Research Agency--includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit