María Antonia Blasco Marhuenda (born 1965), known as María Blasco, is a Spanish molecular biologist. She is the current director of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas, CNIO).
Blasco was born in 1965. She obtained her PhD in 1993 for her research at the Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa (UAM–CSIC), under the supervision of Margarita Salas. That same year, Blasco joined the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York (USA) as a Postdoctoral Fellow under the leadership of Carol W. Greider (who was to win a Nobel Prize in 2009). In 1997 she returned to Spain to start her own research at the Centro Nacional de Biotecnología in Madrid. She joined the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas (CNIO) in 2003 as Director of the Molecular Oncology Programme and Leader of the Telomeres and Telomerase Group. In 2005 she was also assigned as Vice-Director of Basic Research and in 2011 she was appointed as CNIO Director.
- Isolation of the core components of mouse telomerase and generation of the first knockout mouse for telomerase;
- Generation of the first mouse with increased telomerase expression in adult tissues;
- The finding that mammalian telomeres and subtelomeres have epigenetic marks characteristic of constitutive heterochromatin;
- Discovery of telomeric RNAs, which are potent telomerase-inhibitors whose expression is altered in cancer;
- Demonstration that telomerase activity and telomere length determine the regenerative capacity of adult stem cells;
- Identification of the longest telomeres as a universal feature of adult stem cell niches;
- The finding that telomerase overexpression in the context of cancer resistant-mice improves organismal fitness, produces a systemic delay in ageing and an extension in median life-span;
- Discovery that telomeres rejuvenate after nuclear reprogramming;
- Identification of the molecular mechanisms by which short telomeres/DNA damage limit nuclear reprogramming of defective cells;
- Discovery that telomeric protein TRF1 can act as both a tumour suppressor and as a factor in ageing prevention.