Sharon Begley Predicts the Nobel Prize Laureates: Blackburn, Greider, and Szostak Win for Telomeres Research

This morning at 5:30 ET, the Nobel Prize winners in medicine were announced in Stockholm (where it was a much more reasonable 11:30 a.m.). In an article last week for Newsweek.com, Sharon Begley wrote about experts who are handicapping the race by selecting "citation laureates." David Pendlebury of Thomson Reuters measured how often scientists' work was cited by others and, based on that, created a list of Nobel frontrunners. Who were the big winners in the Reuters race? Begley reported its findings and put the company's top seeds in context:

Jack Szostak of Harvard is a pioneer in synthetic biology—basically, creating life in a test tube. For my money, he'll have to wait until he actually succeeds before he gets called to Stockholm, but if he's honored this year it will be a recognition of how far toward that godlike goal he has already come.

Elizabeth Blackburn of UC San Francisco would be a safer choice: she has made crucial discoveries about telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes that are involved in aging as well as cancer. It would be hard to honor Blackburn without also including Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins, who has also made seminal discoveries about telomeres. Greider is still in her 40s; to gauge her accomplishments, consider that the average age of a first-time NIH grantee is about 43.

And who were the big winners? Blackburn, Greider, and Szostak, who each took home one third of the Nobel Prize's $10 million winnings. The Nobel committee cited all of their work for its connection to telomeres, the chromosome caps Begley mentioned above. It's the telomere that helps the chromosome reproduce and keeps it from degrading, said the committee, and Blackburn, Greider, and Szostak were integral in figuring that out:

Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak discovered that a unique DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation. Carol Greider and Elizabeth Blackburn identified telomerase, the enzyme that makes telomere DNA. These discoveries explained how the ends of the chromosomes are protected by the telomeres and that they are built by telomerase.

The Nobel committee suggests that further research on telomeres may lead to breakthroughs in anti-aging, cancer treatment, and inherited diseases.

This is just the beginning of Nobel week—tomorrow the prize for physics will be announced, followed by the chemistry award on Wednesday, literature on Thursday, peace on Friday, and economics on Saturday. In her article, Begley reported on more findings by Thomson Reuters's Pendlebury, who so far is three for three, and she speculated on winners in other categories. In the final prize, she specifically likes William Nordhaus and Martin Weitzman for their work on the economics of environmental protection. Check in with nobelprize.org this weekend to find out if the Nobel committee feels the same.

Sharon Begley Predicts the Nobel Prize Laureates: Blackburn, Greider, and Szostak Win for Telomeres Research | News