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2006 Gruber Genetics The Science

Sir Gustav Nossal is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Melbourne, a former President of the Australian Academy of Science and Australian of the Year in 2000.

"Elizabeth Blackburn is one of Australia's finest scientists and I'm really thrilled to see her win this important and well-endowed prize. I actually think Blackburn is an excellent candidate for a Nobel Prize because her work on cellular aging is critically important to cancer and many other fields."

Professor Sue Serjeantson is Executive Secretary of the Australian Academy of Science (AAS). The Academy is a national, independent, non-profit organisation that was established to promote and share scientific knowledge. The Fellowship of the Academy is made up of about 380 of Australia's top scientists.

"The Australian Academy of Science congratulates Elizabeth Blackburn on the award of the 2006 Gruber Genetics Prize. Just last month, Elizabeth shared the prestigious Lasker Award with Carol Greider of John Hopkins University and Jack Szostak, of Harvard University, for their telomerase research. More than 70 Lasker Award recipients, including Australian Peter Doherty, have gone on to win a Nobel Prize. Elizabeth was a popular winner of the Australia Prize, the forerunner to the Prime Minister's Science Prize, in 1998".

Professor Bob Williamson is Senior Principal Research Fellow of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Professor of Medical Genetics, at the University of Melbourne. One of his major interests is national science policy and ethics and he publishes widely on stem cell science.

"Professor Liz Blackburn thoroughly deserves this award. Her research into the structure and function of short sequences at the ends of chromosomes, known as telomeres, was instrumental in showing how human cells age over time. Her current studies of telomere shortening and lengthening in embryonic and adult stem cells may allow scientists to prevent cancer when cells are transplanted for therapy. Liz Blackburn studied at the University of Melbourne before moving, first to Cambridge and then the University of California San Francisco, but she has retained close links with the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne and with Monash University."

Tracy Bryan is head of the Cell Biology Research Unit at the Children's Medical Research Institute at Westmead, NSW. During her PhD studies she discovered a new mechanism for maintenance of telomeres in human tumours. Her research continues to focus on the role of telomeres in the growth of cancer cells.

"It is wonderful to see Elizabeth Blackburn's work given recognition, since she was responsible for the early, ground-breaking work on telomeres and telomerase. It is also a testament to the value of curiosity-driven research, since the work was carried out in a one-celled pond organism called Tetrahymena. At the time, it was not known that this work would turn out to have such far-reaching implications for cancer and aging in humans. Elizabeth Blackburn's work has lead to the rapid growth of a large and vibrant field of research, in which there is a lot of interest in developing telomerase inhibitors as potential anti-cancer agents."

Comments compiled by the Australian Science Media Centre.