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Pioneering biochemistry prof explores ageing of the body

21 June, 2007

An internationally renowned biochemist has revealed new research to a Monash University audience that shows severe emotional stress can lead to premature ageing of the human body.

Professor Elizabeth Blackburn is the Louis Matheson Distinguished Visiting Professor within the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University.

She has told the Dean's Lecture that her team of researchers at University of California, San Francisco has discovered the link between low levels of a specific enzyme in chromosomes linked to ageing and chronic psychological stress.

The findings involved controlled studies where a mother was looking after her disabled child for long periods. Similar studies involving dementia carers are currently underway.

Professor Blackburn and her collaborator Dr Elissa Epel at UCSF also found diminished levels of the enzyme in people with heart disease risks.

Professor Blackburn, an Australian-born scientist and Professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF detailed her latest research into the structure of telomeres, the caps on chromosomes that prevent them from fraying, which she discovered.

She discovered telomerase, an enzyme in chromosomes that adds a specific sequence of DNA to the telomeres after they divide. Telomerase diminishes, as people age.

Professor Blackburn won the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research last year, seen by many as a precursor to being awarded a Nobel Prize. Seventy winners of the Lasker have gone on to win a Nobel.

Professor Blackburn also spokr recently at an 'Opportunities in Science' Symposium for secondary school students at BMW Edge, Federation Square, organised by Monash University, in conjunction with VESKI (Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation) and Invest Victoria.

She was joined at the science symposium by Professor James Whisstock, the recipient of the Science Minister's Prize for Life Scientist for 2006, and Dr Alyssa Barry, VESKI Innovation Fellow. 

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