Maria Blasco, Vice Director at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre, Founder of Life Length

Maria A. Blasco (Alicante, 1965) obtained her PhD in 1993 for her research at the Centro de Biología Molecular “Severo Ochoa” under the supervision of M. Salas. That same year, Blasco joined the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York (USA) as a Postdoctoral Fellow under the leadership of C. W. Greider. In 1997 she returned to Spain to start her own research Group at the Centro Nacional de Biotecnología in Madrid. She joined the CNIO in 2003 as Director of the Molecular Oncology Programme and Leader of the Telomeres and Telomerase Group and was appointed CNIO Vice Director in 2005.

Her major research achievements include: (1) Isolation of the core components of mouse telomerase and generation of the first knockout mouse for telomerase; (2) Generation of the first mouse with increased telomerase expression in adult tissues; (3) The finding that mammalian telomeres and subtelomeres have epigenetic marks characteristic of constitutive heterochromatin; (4) Discovery of telomeric RNAs, which are potent telomerase-inhibitors whose expression is altered in cancer; (5) Demonstration that telomerase activity and telomere length determine the regenerative capacity of adult stem cells; (6) Identification of the longest telomeres as a universal feature of adult stem cell niches; (7) The finding that telomerase overexpression in the context of cancer resistant-mice improves organismal fitness, produces a systemic delay in ageing and an extension in median life-span; (8) Discovery that telomeres rejuvenate after nuclear reprogramming; (9) Identification of the molecular mechanisms by which short telomeres/DNA damage limit nuclear reprogramming of defective cells; (10) Discovery that telomeric protein TRF1 can act as both a tumour suppressor and as a factor in ageing prevention.

Blasco has received the Josef Steiner Cancer Research, Rey Jaime I, Körber European Science, Alberto Sols and Fundación Lilly Preclinical Research, Awards. She has also been the recipient of the Spanish National “Santiago Ramón y Cajal” Research Award in Biology (2010). Blasco has also been awarded the EMBO Gold Medal and has served on its Council since 2008.

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