Saturday, June 22, 2013

189: The Self-Empowered Woman: Elizabeth H. Blackburn & DNA

Dear Followers,


Today I’d like to introduce you to a remarkable woman who made a major discovery that should be of interest to anyone who wants to look and/or feel as young as possible in spite of the passing years. Elizabeth H Blackburn, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for her groundbreaking discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase, is considered America’s expert when it comes to the factors that connect emotional stress, health and DNA to aging.

Blackburn was born in Australia in 1948, to a family composed of doctors and scientists. Both of her parents were doctors, and her maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were geologists. Additionally, her father’s sister and her mother’s brother were also family physicians.

As a young child, Blackburn would pick up ants in her backyard and jellyfish on the beach, and was known for keeping tadpoles in glass jars. She was the second child of seven siblings and the family’s home was full of pets and animals, in her words, “all over the house and garden.” Perhaps because of her love of animals, from an early age she was fascinated by biology, and the biography of Marie Curie was her favorite childhood book. By the time she was a teenager, she had made up her mind to become a scientist (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).

Although it sounds like an idyllic Australian childhood, there were problems. Her father was rarely home, and Blackburn told her biographer that she longed for his attention. He drank too much, and when she was a teenager her parents separated (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

On her own with so many children, Blackburn’s mother suffered from depression, which sometimes required hospital stays. For this reason (as well as the fact that the young Blackburn didn’t want to be judged or pitied), she rarely invited friends to her home (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).

Fortunately, she was able to attend Broadland House Girls Grammar School, where she received an excellent education. Her two regrets are that neither Greek nor Physics (which she learned at the local public high school in evening classes) was offered at her school. She was, however, able to study piano, which she loved enough to "wistfully hope" that she could become a musician (9: Music).

During her teenage years, schoolwork (instead of friendships) became her focus, and she excelled, particularly when few female students were focusing on science. She majored in biochemistry at the University of Melbourne, and moved to England to earn her PhD at Cambridge. During that time she became an expert in DNA sequencing (7: Magnificent Obsession).

As if moving to England were not enough of a radical change, in 1975 Blackburn moved to America where she became a post doctoral fellow at Yale, where her fiancee (John Sedat) would be teaching. They married in 1975, and moved to San Francisco where both Blackburn and her husband worked at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Ultimately, in 1986, she moved again to become a professor--with her own laboratory--at the University of California, Berkeley (14: Selective Disassociation).

In 1989, three years after the birth of her son, Benjamin, she decided that  the drive from the family to Berkeley each day simply became too much.  So she--and her laboratory--relocated to UCSF.  Blackburn was president of the American Society for Cell Biology in 1998, and in late 2001 joined the President's Council on Bioethics.  She disagreed with some of the council's recommendations (11: Risk Addiction), and after two years the personnel office of the George W. Bush White House informed her that she would no longer be on the council.

In 2009, Dr. Blackburn, one of her researchers (Dr. Carol W. Grieder) and Harvard's Dr. Jack W. Szostak won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the enzyme telomerase (8: Turning No Into Yes). Until then, only eight women had won Nobel Prizes in Medicine.

Dr. Blackburn has discovered that traumatic events early in life can affect both telomeres and health for decades afterwards.  She is currently researching the impact of meditation on telomeres.  Her hope is to offer testing to the public within the year because unusually short telomeres may indicate a health problem.  She feels that measuring telomeres could become part of a new direction in medicine--one that could "intercept" disease. 

Working in a primarily male-dominated field has brought a number of challenges to Dr. Blackburn's career. In fact, at one point she admitted that when younger "I would have been a little afraid to do things because my male colleagues wouldn't have taken me seriously as a molecular biologist."  Now, however, "Being senior enough in the field, having enough solidity, I don't feel afraid of being marginalized" (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

Looking forward to your comments...

Monday, June 10, 2013

188: The Self-Empowered Woman: Female Breadwinners

Dear Followers,

Recently, The New York Times ran an article that caught many social observers by surprise. According to the Pew Research Center, four out of every ten American households that include children under the age of 18 now have a mother who is either the sole or primary wage earner for her family. This statistic--the highest ever on record--has quadrupled since 1960.

Some analysts believe this is because it is now so common for single women to raise children on their own. Nearly two-thirds of the women who are chief breadwinners for their family are single parents. Other experts feel that the recession--during which men employed in construction and manufacturing, and were therefore more likely to lose their jobs--is to blame.

In 2007 (before the recession officially started), 20% of mothers told PEW that they would rather work full time than part time or not at all. But by the end of 2012 that had risen to 32%.

The median family income for single mothers (who are more likely to be younger, less educated, Hispanic or Black) is $23,000. But the median household income for married women who earn more than their husbands (who are more likely to be slightly older, college educated, and White) is $80,000. Of all married couples, 24% include a wife who earns more than her husband, while in 1960 that number was only 6%. Interestingly enough, economists discovered that wives with a better education and stronger earning potential than their husbands are less likely to work.

If the job market continues to evolve, marriage/income issues may change as well. Experts agree that college degrees are becoming more important to both finding and keeping a job. And, of late, more women than men are earning 4-year degrees. In 2011, 23% of married couples with children included a wife with more education than her husband; in 17% of those couples the men had higher educations. The remaining 60% included spouses with near-equal levels of education.

In 2007, 71% of Americans felt that the growing number of children born to unmarried mothers was "a big problem." But only two months ago that number was 64%. Republicans are more likely than either Independents or Democrats to be concerned about the increasing number of unmarried single mothers.

In 1960, the share of never-married single mothers was only 4%, but by 2011 it had risen to 44%. Never-married mothers tend to earn less money than their divorced or widowed peers and, according to PEW, are more likely to be a member of a racial or ethnic minority.

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

187: The Self-Empowered Woman: Beyonce & Chime for Change

Dear Followers,


I hope that you will be able to tune in to" The  Women's Concert for Change: The Sound for Change Live from London" tomorrow night at 9 P.M. on NBC. And I REALLY hope that you'll let all your girlfriends  (and female relatives) know about this ground-breaking event for girls and women.

This important event is the centerpiece of CHIME FOR CHANGE, which is a new fundraising campaign founded by Gucci. The idea is to raise both awareness and money to highlight female empowerment around the globe. Funds will be distributed to over 50 non-profit organizations in 38 countries, and focused on the key areas of education, health care and justice.

Beyonce is the artistic director of the concert (as well as the co-founder of CHIME FOR CHANGE), and the program will begin with a 45-minute performance--other performers, like Jennifer Lopez, John Legend, Jay Z and Florence + The Machine will also perform. Presenters during the program include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Gloria Steinem, Halle Berry, Madonna, Zoe Saldana and other A-list celebrities.

The concert event will be broadcast to over 175 countries and will celebrate inspirational stories from around the world. One goal is to generate awareness about local and global issues that affect girls and women, and the other is to raise money to help non-profit organizations that are trying to create much-needed change.

CHIME FOR CHANGE is a foundation that was created by the creative director of Gucci, Frida Giannini, actress Salma Hayek-Pinault and Beyonce Knowles-Carter. The "advisory board" of advocates, issues experts and global leaders include former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife, Sarah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Beyonce is the mother of one-year old daughter Blue Ivy, and obviously feels strongly about this movement. In her words, "I have always felt strongly about equal opportunity for women. Girls have to be taught from early on that they are strong and capable of being anything they want to be. It's up to us to change the statistics for women around the world. I'm honored to be in the company of women who live fearlessly and set an example for the next generation of young ladies. I am really happy that so many amazing artists and presenters have come together to support CHIME FOR CHANGE. Our goal is to have a great time together while we unite and strengthen the voices of girls and women around the world."

Ticket buyers for the live concert in London will each be able to choose which of the many projects CHIME FOR CHANGE supports, and this means that their ticket money will be directed to a specific non-profit organization.  Frida Giannini added, "We have reached a significant moment in the history of girls' and women's empowerment and now is the time for change. I think it is essential for girls and women to see and celebrate what is possible. I hope that through CHIME we can help the voices calling for change to become so loud that they cannot be ignored."

Looking forward to your comments...