March 20, 2014
LA JOLLA—Vicki Lundblad, professor of the Salk Institute’s Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, has been awarded the Becky and Ralph S. O’Connor Chair and elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.
Lundblad has been named the recipient of the Becky and Ralph S. O’Connor Chair in honor of excellence in the field of molecular and cell biology. Ralph O’Connor, who serves on the Salk Board of Trustees, and his wife, Becky, generously created the chair as an “investment that has the potential for maximum impact on human health.”
Vicki Lundblad, Salk Professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory
Image: Courtesy of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Lundblad has also been elected a 2014 Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology for her pioneering work in telomere biology. Fellows are elected annually through a highly selective process based on significant contributions to the field of microbiology, a field which boasts the names of Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk and many others who have made some of the greatest achievements in history.
Lundblad’s research has defined a key molecular mechanism that is critical in both aging and cancer. Lundblad found that the ends of chromosomes, known as telomeres, shorten over time, acting as a “molecular clock” that counts down the number of times a cell can divide. She has also shown that a telomere-dedicated enzyme called telomerase can help reset the clock and increase cell division.
In cancer, rogue cells proliferate, no longer under the control of this countdown clock due to the abundant amounts of telomerase that constantly replenish telomeres. In normal tissues, however, telomeres shorten and eventually block cell division, having a dramatic effect on the aging process. Figuring out how to control this molecular clock suggests the tantalizing possibility of both halting cancerous cells and promoting healthy aging. Toward that end, Lundblad’s lab is currently teasing out the pathways that either promote or inhibit telomerase inside cells.
About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world’s preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.
Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.