Blackburn’s Nobel Win Earns Praise from Political Leaders

By Robin Hindery

When UCSF’s Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, was named one of three recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Oct. 5, the seemingly endless stream of well-wishers included not only friends, relatives and colleagues, but also several prominent political figures.

At a press conference the morning of the announcement, UCSF Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, presented Blackburn with an official proclamation from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office, declaring Oct. 5, 2009, as “Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn Day” throughout the city.

A short time later, the molecular biologist received a phone call from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who praised her contributions to science and to the state’s reputation as a leader in biomedical innovation.

“You are fantastic, and you are one of those immigrants that is making great contributions to the State of California,” the governor said during their conversation, which lasted about a minute and a half and is posted on YouTube.

Schwarzenegger joked that when he tells people he is from Austria, they often confuse the country with Blackburn’s native Australia.

In addition to his phone call, Schwarzenegger issued an official statement congratulating Blackburn and her fellow recipients, Carol Greider, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Jack Szostak, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, on “their tremendous achievement.”

“It is inspiring and exciting to see new breakthroughs in science and medicine made in our state,” he said. “California has always been a leader in research and innovation and I am proud of the outstanding work done by these three individuals. I am excited to see what future advances will be made in medicine because of their work.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to hold that high-level post, issued her own statement of congratulations, calling Blackburn “a champion of innovation” and “an inspiration to all women pursuing careers in the fields of technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

Blackburn is one of just 10 women — and the first Australian woman — to have received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine since it was established in 1901.

“Dr. Blackburn’s groundbreaking discovery represents more than one small step for biological research,” said Pelosi, whose Northern California district includes San Francisco. “It is a giant leap forward in the battle for a cure to cancer and other devastating diseases. Thanks to her work, patients will get better care; doctors will have better tools for treatment; and future generations of researchers will gain a critical building block for the next wave of discovery.”