When I learned this week that Dr. Carol Greider will receive the 2009 Nobel Prize for Medicine I was happy for her and for the recognition this brings to science in pursuit of answers for human aging. But it is also disquieting to know how long it has taken for her contributions on the role of telomeres in cancer and aging to achieve the pinnacle of scientific recognition.
Back in 1992 the Alliance for Aging Research tapped Dr. Greider and Dr. Cal Harley to receive a first of its kind award for path-breaking research into the mechanisms of aging. From 1992 to 1999, AlliedSignal Corporation awarded $200,000 yearly to pivotal scientific research in aging. The Alliance organized and managed the selection committee. We were trying to pick winners even before the research was done.
Talk about audacity! And imagine this: A giant U.S. corporation in aerospace, automotive products and engineering was putting up the money to reward high risk/high payoff research in the fundamentals of aging.
Sadly, AlliedSignal was bought by Honeywell in 1999. The new company quickly dropped sponsorship of the Award for Research Excellence in Aging.
So the echo 17 years later when Dr. Greider receives the Nobel is bittersweet. Who can wait so long for the best science to be fully recognized? And where are the big companies outside the health arena willing to invest in research that is so urgent for aging populations around the globe?