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05.09.2017 08:40

Cell Ageing Research Wins Health Science Prize

This year's 20,000-euro Health Science Prize in the research category has been awarded to a project led by Dr María Blasco Marhuenda, director of Spain's National Oncology Research Centre (CNIO). The annual Health Science Awards, now in their thirteenth year, are run by the Caja Rural de Granada Foundation to recognise the achievements of scientists working in fields related to the priority lines of research at the Granada Health Science Technological Park (PTS).

Dr. María Antonia Blasco Marhuenda.

The panel of judges unanimously agreed that this year's award for research should go to ‘Telomeric RNAs are essential to maintain telomeres’, a study led by Dr Blasco in collaboration with Isabel López de Silanes and Juan José Montero.

According to Dr Blasco, “the study describes, for the first time, the importance of a new component of telomeres called telomeric RNAs or TERRAS, which were co-discovered by us and a Swiss research group in 2008. Up until now we hadn't determined if these TERRAs were essential to maintain telomeres or not, and in this study we show that they play a very important role, enabling telomeres to fulfil their function of protecting chromosomes.” To do this, “first we had to identify the locus or origin of these RNAs and delete it using Crispr-Cas DNA editing technology. This will also enable us to breed mice deficient in these RNAs to better understand their role in cancer and ageing.”

Telomeres are regions of DNA located at each end of a chromosome. They play a key role in keeping genetic material stable and cells young. As the body gets older, the telomeres get shorter. The team of scientists led by Dr Blasco is conducting research on how to prolong life by preventing degenerative diseases associated with ageing, such as cancer.

María Antonia Blasco Marhuenda has a PhD in molecular biology and has been the director of Spain's National Oncology Research Centre since 2011. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Rey Jaime I Prize (2007), the Körber European Science Prize (2008), the Santiago Ramón y Cajal National Research Prize (2010) and the Miguel Catalán Research Prize (2015).

The awards also include a prize for scientific dissemination, which this year went to the Escuela de Pacientes (‘patient school’) website developed by the Andalusian School of Public Health (EASP) for Andalusia's Regional Ministry of Health. The 6,000-euro prize and certificate were awarded in recognition of more than eight years of work to improve the quality of life of people with chronic illnesses through the provision of information and peer-to-peer training.