María Blasco Marhuenda

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A lifetime of research against cancer

María Antonia Blasco is a biologist from Alicante, born in 1965.

She did her PhD under the direction of the famous Margarita Salas, specializing in telomeres and telomerase research.

She is the founder biotech company Life Length, which makes commercial use of technologies for studying telomere length and predict cell division. Using these variables they can derive life expectancy.

Some of her major achievements in research are: the generation of the first mouse with upregulated telomerase expression in adult tissues; the discovery of telomere RNAs potent inhibitors of telomerase whose expression is altered in cancer; the demonstration that telomerase activity and telomere length determine the regenerative capacity of adult stem cells; the discovery that telomeres rejuvenate after nuclear reprogramming; and the discovery that the telomeric protein TRF1 can act as both a tumour suppressor and as an aging prevention factor.

Since 2011, she leads the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO).

She has been the first woman scientist in the world to obtain the Josef Steiner Award, endowed with one million Swiss francs for cancer research. She has been awarded with the Rey Jaime I Prize and the EMBO Women in Science Award.

María Blasco explains how cancer research has advanced: “20 years ago we almost did not know what cancer was. Yes, we knew that it was a disease and its main characteristics. But we now know its molecular phases. So much has been discovered in these years. From Mariano Barbacid finding out about oncogenes, until today when we know virtually everything that makes a normal cell turn into a tumor cell. Much has been learned and we are still learning... The issue is that cancer is not a simple disease, it is more than two hundred types of different diseases depending on the tissue that is affected. But we are still moving forward”

«The key challenge of science is to unravel the aging process in order to manipulate it genetically.»