Titia de Lange is head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics at The Rockefeller University and director of the university’s Anderson Center for Cancer Research. In November she will succeed Günter Blobel as chair of the Wiley Prize jury and she spoke to us recently about the prize and its importance.
Q. Can you tell us about your background and your current position?
A. I am from Holland but have been in the US for 30 years. I did my PhD in Amsterdam and then went to UCSF to study with Harold Varmus who received a Nobel Prize for his work on cancer genes. After my work with Harold, I moved to The Rockefeller University to set up my own lab and I have been here for 25 years.
Q. How did you become involved with The Wiley Prize?
A. Outgoing chair of the Wiley Prize, Günter Blobel asked me to join the committee.
Q. Why are prizes such as the Wiley Prize important to the biomedical research community?
A. The Wiley Prize is unusual in that it often is ahead of other award committees. The Wiley Prize can guide other committees to potential candidates. This has happened time and again with Wiley awardees receiving major awards later.
Q. What does the Prize offer scientists?
A. Prizes offer scientists recognition of their research. To be selected by a group of your peers for your discoveries is an important validation ofyour work. . The Wiley Prize in particular offers a $35,000 award and a luncheon in honor of the prizewinner(s). Nominations are open until September 30th, 2015 and can be submitted here.
Q. Can you tell us about a few of the notable prizewinners?
A. As I said, the Wiley has often been ahead of the curve. Notable examples are: Peter Walter and Kazutoshi Mori who received the Wiley in 2005 and the Lasker Award in 2014; Liz Blackburn and Carol Greider who received the Wiley in 2006 and the Nobel in 2009. And Andrew Fire and Craig Mello who received the Wiley Prize in 2003 and the Nobel in 2006. This year’s Wiley Prize winners Evelyn Witkin and Stephen Elledge went on to win the Lasker Award earlier this month.
Q. You have been the recipient of numerous awards in the biomedical sciences as well. What do you feel has been the most significant achievement in your career thus far?
A. I have worked my whole career on one simple problem in biology: how do eukaryotic cells survive with linear chromosomes? The problem is that the ends of the chromosomes look like broken DNA and cells will try to repair them. We have telomeres at our chromosome ends to prevent such repair, which could lead to a disaster in our genome. I have been studying telomeres for 25 years to understand how they work. We have come a long way and understand in principle how they work but much remains to be discovered, thankfully….