Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn said on Saturday that she hopes to collaborate with Taiwan on studies of her Nobel winning research that sheds light on how diseases are closely linked to a structure that sits at the end of chromosomes.
The Australian-born biologist is visiting Taiwan for the first time to speak about her groundbreaking research into the correlation between the structures, called “telomeres,” which are connected to mortality risks and aging-related disease.
Currently based at the University of California, San Francisco, the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine expressed the hope that her visit will “prompt interest” in future collaboration.
International collaboration is increasingly becoming the way forward in science because expertise and strengths can emerge from different fields, she said on the sidelines of a symposium in Taipei.
“There are wonderful scientists, studies and clinical opportunities for study in Taiwan, perhaps unique in some way,” she added.
Telomeres can be thought of as plastic caps on the ends of shoelaces, which stop them from unraveling.
The structures protect the ends of chromosomes from damage when cells undergo division, but every time cells divide their telomeres shorten and eventually they stop replicating and die.
Age-related diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, diabetes and immune system dysfunction are often associated with telomere shortening in human cells, she said.
Having condutec a number of studies on what can be done to enhance telomere maintenance, Blackburn is now working on studies to find out what interventions can be demonstrably shown to either be useful or not.
“There’s no shortage of ideas,” she said. “This kind of work provokes people to think about many things, so one has to carefully design studies to test if somebody’s idea is actually verifiable.”