Titia de Lange describes herself as a puzzler, someone who “lives the question,” rather than focusing on the solution.
The puzzle that de Lange has been working on since the late ‘80s is telomeres: highly specialized DNA-protein structures that cap the ends of linear chromosomes, protecting from degradation and maintaining chromosome stability. Impaired functioning of telomeres can lead to genomic instability and to cancer, as well as accelerate the aging process.
Early in her studies, she was one of the first to isolate the telomeres of human chromosomes. Since then, she has identified a protein complex at telomeres, which she named shelterin, and demonstrated its role in suppressing DNAdamage response and regulating telomere stability.
Her work has garnered her wide acclaim and numerous awards. And although de Lange comes from a family of scientists and doctors, in Amsterdam, she was not encouraged to pursue her studies. “At the time,” she recalls, “women were expected to be homemakers; at best women pursued professions as a hobby.”
But she persevered, earning her PhD in biochemistry from the University of Amsterdam and the Netherlands Cancer Institute; she moved to the United States immediately thereafter. During her postdoctoral fellowship at UCSF, she found the atmosphere inspirational: “They asked questions in a new way. And there were women there, who were highly regarded, and ran their own labs.”
De Lange joined the Rockefeller faculty in 1990, and was named the Leon Hess Professor in 1999; she is also associate director of the University’s Anderson Center for Cancer Research and an American Cancer Society Research Professor. She is an elected member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, the European Molecular Biology Organization, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
Awards and Accomplishments
- AACR Clowes Memorial Award (2010)
- Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center Prize (2008)
- NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (2005)
- Charlotte Friend Memorial Award from the AACR (2004)
- Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research (2001)