2005 News Feature: Telomere Researcher Wins NIH Director's Pioneer Award

National Human Genome Research Institute

National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Telomere Researcher Wins NIH Director's Pioneer Award

NHGRI to Fund Up to $2 Million of Dr. Titia de Lange's Research

Photo of Dr. Titia de Lange, Ph.D.Titia de Lange, Ph.D., Leon Hess Professor and head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics at The Rockefeller University in New York, was named one of 13 recipients of a 2005 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director's Pioneer Award. The award, announced on Sept. 29, will provide Dr. de Lange with up to $500,000 in direct costs per year for five years to fund research in teleomeres.

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) will fund de Lange's award for four out of the five years, totaling $2 million in support.

Dr. de Lange is a leader in the study of telomeres, the specialized protein-based DNA complexes that cap the ends of chromosomes. Telomeres keep the ends of the various chromosomes in the cell from accidentally becoming attached to each other and protect the chromosomes from major degeneration. Loss of telomeres can cause chromosomes to join, which may contribute to cancer and cellular aging. The primary focus of de Lange's research has been to isolate the protein components of telomeres and determine their exact roles in the cell.

At The Rockefeller University, de Lange has been at the forefront of research to determine how cells differentiate the ends of chromosomes from broken DNA, and how telomeres protect chromosome ends and moderate their replication. Dr. de Lange's laboratory successfully identified many of the protein components in telomeres in human beings. In collaboration with a researcher from the University of North Carolina, Dr. de Lange showed that human telomeres are not in a linear structure but in looped structure. The discovery of telomere loops has caused researchers to reconsider many aspects of telomere biology, including how these structures are involved in cancer and aging.

Dr. de Lange plans to use her Pioneer Award to develop a new system for studying the biological response to DNA damage.

Dr. de Lange received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Amsterdam and The Netherlands Cancer Institute. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco and is a member of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences. Her other achievements include receiving the Rita Allen Award, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Toxicology Scholar Award, a New York Community Trust Cancer Research Award, an Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar Award in Aging Research, and the inaugural Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. de Lange also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Utrecht.

This is the second year for the NIH Director's Pioneer Award program, a program that targets researchers at the early to middle stages of their careers, providing them $500,000 in direct costs per year for five years. Pioneer Award candidates undergo a rigorous evaluation process to identify investigators with a likelihood of pursuing a pioneering approach to a significant biomedical problem.

The NIH Director's Pioneer Award Program is a major component of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, a series of far-reaching initiatives designed to transform the nation¿s medical research.

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Last Reviewed: May 9, 2012