Nobel Scientist Carol Greider
Professor Carol Greider and her son Charles Comfort, 13, at a news conference in Baltimore, Maryland, October 5, 2009. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Women's History Month celebrates the contributions of women, including smart, hardworking women like Dr. Carol Greider. Besides being the dedicated mom of two children, Greider is a brilliant scientist who is one of only nine women ever to receive the Nobel Prize in medicine. But before that, as a young girl, she was dyslexic, which impairs a person's ability to read.
There were no special classes Greider could take for her disability. She had to find ways to compensate on her own. For instance, she learned to memorize how words were spelled and pronounced, which actually helped her later in her work in biology.
"The joy is in finding out something new," Greider said. "If you enjoy solving puzzles, science is a great field for you."
Greider first became interested in biology in high school. She then decided to major in biology in college. Little did she know that one day she would be one of the most inspiring scientists in the world.
Greider and her colleague with whom she won the Nobel, Elizabeth Blackburn, study telomeres, which are the ends of chromosomes. Cells have approximately 40,000 chromosomes repeatedly dividing. Each time the cells divide, the chromosome ends shorten. Their work, published in 1985, consisted of studying this process of shortening, and finding ways to lengthen the telomeres again, using an enzyme they discovered called telomerase.
"The discovery of telomerase was incredibly exciting because it was the sense of seeing something new," Greider said. She believes her team's work with telomeres has great potential to help fight diseases such as cancer, which makes cells divide repeatedly.
The question is whether inhibiting the telomeres might be an effective way to fight cancer.
The study of telomeres could also be helpful in treating other disorders in blood, skin, and lungs. In these cases, the ability to lengthen the telomeres might be a potential treatment.
Greider was doing laundry the day that she got the call from the Nobel committee in Stockholm, Sweden, that she had won the Nobel Prize.
"The excitement of getting the phone call that morning was really about having someone acknowledge our work," she said. "When I woke up my son, he said, 'Great! Do I still have to go to school today?' My children did end up having school off that day."
Greider also missed her spin class that morning.
"I got to write an e-mail to my friends that probably has never been written before," she said. "I said, 'Can't spin today, I just won the Nobel Prize.'"
Greider plans to continue studying more about telomeres.
"Each time we solve one puzzle it raises even more interesting questions," she said.
She had some advice for kids struggling in school.
"Try not to see the obstacles right away," she said. "My advice is that young people should follow what excites them."
CELEBRATE WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH
For more on the achievements and contributions of women in the United States, check out the Scholastic Kids Press Corps' Women's History Month Special Report.
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