Two pioneers first women to get top research prize

Two doctors engaged in RNA research--Dr. Joan Steitz, Ph.D., and Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D.--became the first women to win the prestigious Albany Medical Center Prize, one of the richest awards available for biomedical research. Newsday bills the $500,000 prize as second only to the $1.4 million that Nobel prize winners take home, but a new $1 million annual prize for cancer research--the Gotham Prize--may have interfered with that ranking.

Steitz won for her work in identifying the role of small ribonucleoproteins in creating messenger RNA, a key focus in drug research today. Blackburn won for her work involving telomeres, which holds chromosomes together. High levels of telomerase help prevent cardiovascular problems but also contribute to cancer risks. Those insights have helped identify new medical therapies.

The two researchers have also helped blaze a path for more women in research.

"We were pretty lonely," Steitz recalls of her early days in the largely male scientific community. "I remember sitting on the committees for years where I was the only woman, and things have changed now."

- here's the release on their win
- read the report from Newsday