Nobel Laureate Thomas R. Cech, Ph.D. to Deliver Plenary Lecture at American Thyroid Association Annual Meeting

September 19, 2016 — Thomas R. Cech, Ph.D., a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, will present a Plenary Lecture entitled “Precision Medicine – From Iodine-131 to CRISPR Genome Editing” at the 86th Annual Meeting of the American Thyroid Association (ATA), on September 23rd, in Denver, CO.

Dr. Cech shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Professor Sidney Altman, of Yale University, New Haven, CT, for their discovery of the catalytic properties of ribonucleic acid (RNA). The demonstration of a biocatalytic function for RNAs showed that these molecules were not only carriers of genetic information, but could also have an active role in cellular metabolism.

After graduating from Grinnell College (Iowa) with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Dr. Cech went on to obtain his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. Following his laboratory’s early work on catalytic RNAs known as ribozymes, Dr. Cech’s group has since focused more extensively on long noncoding RNAs associated with RNA-protein complexes (RNPs). These RNPs have biocatalytic activity. Examples include complexes that regulate gene transcription from DNA into RNA, and telomerase, an enzyme critical for the elongation of the ends of chromosomes (telomeres).

Much of Dr. Cech’s research currently centers on telomerase. His team cloned and sequenced the gene for the catalytic subunit of human telomerase. Mutations in the telomerase enzyme have been implicated in degenerative diseases and in the development of cancer. Furthermore, scientists continue to explore the link between premature shortening of telomeres and human cell aging.

In addition to being awarded a Nobel Prize, Dr. Cech is a recipient of the National Medal of Science from the National Science Foundation and the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served as president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and as an HHMI Investigator.