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Doctores Honoris Causa UC3M

Mario Vargas Llosa y Maís Blasco Marhuenda

UC3M Doctorates Honoris Causa

The inauguration of the 2014-15 academic year at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) was presented as the main event in the celebration of the University’s 25th anniversary.  The event offered a special program, with the awarding of half a dozen Medals of Honor, and two special guests: “the most important living Spanish language author and icon in the teaching of journalism” and “one of the most important Spanish scientists and the leading figure in the analysis of telomeres to improve the aging process,” as Chancellor Daniel Peña presented them in his speech. Mario Vargas Llosa and María Blasco Marhuenda, letters and science sharing the stage in the awarding of two new doctorates honoris causa of the UC3M; both received the Doctoral Medallion, the ceremonial cap and the ring that the University presents as a symbol of alliance with it.

Fighting Cancer

The tribute to this prestigious scientist was entrusted to Professor José Luis Jorcano, from the UC3M Department of Bioengineering and Aerospace Engineering. Jorcano highlighted several key aspects of her career: her extensive experience, interest in the generation of private patents, her management positions in the National Center for Oncological Research and her national and international recognition. In her inaugural speech as Doctor Honoris Causa, María Blasco emphasized that this prize is awarded “for a collective effort, as is the work of research,” which is why she wanted to share it with her group in addition to sharing the honor with her mentors, Margarita Salas, Carol W. Greider, Carlos Martínez A. and Mariano Barbacid.

María Blasco said that she had devoted her entire professional career to trying to understand the molecular causes of illnesses, particularly cancer. All illnesses are caused by a few molecular processes that cause the aging of cells, which “might be influenced by environmental factors (in 80% of the cases) or genetic factors (in 20%).”  For this reason, she explained that her group’s task is to identify the molecular mechanisms of cellular aging and demonstrate that manipulating these molecular processes might have an effect on many illnesses. In addition, she noted that for a scientist there is nothing more satisfying than seeing that her discoveries could have an impact on society, and she recognized the importance of research. “Science is not only an enriching profession for those who pursue it (the best way to live that I have found)… because science is transcendent, supportive; it is a public asset and an asset for humanity. Humanity’s great advances have come thanks to science and thanks to the technology derived from science. Surely there will be even greater advances, also thanks to science.”

Literature and journalism

Carlos Elías Pérez, Full Professor in the UC3M Department of Journalism, gave the speech to introduce Mario Vargas Llosa, praising his distinguished career as a novelist whose name will endure in the history of literature. He also spoke about the Peruvian writer’s work in journalism, noting his vision of this profession as a counterweight, used with “skill, fair play and decency… and which unnerves apathetic democracies.”

Mario Vargas Llosa related how, in his youth, university was “incompatible with the artist, the creator,” an idea that is no longer true in his opinion. “It was said that it was a world of frozen knowledge that looked more to the past than to the future and one which the true creators, the builders of modernity and the future, must stay away from.” Now the reality is very different and this topic has been superseded. “In our day and age, the university has replaced those coffeehouse gatherings.” Furthermore, he talked about his enchantment with journalism, remembering experiences from his first few years, when he learned “the complexity of Peruvian society and the violence that affected it.  I discovered astronomical distances between Peruvians who enjoyed privileges and Peruvians who did not.” It was also journalism that provided him with many of the experiences necessary to write his novels. Vargas Llosa felt moved because it was a journalism department that “conspired” so that the university would award him this “generous distinction and a beautiful ceremony,” which he would remember whenever he was discouraged and felt that everything he had ever written was worthless.

Profiles of the UC3M 2014-15 Honoris Causa

María Blasco Marhuenda (Alicante, 1965) has since 2011 been the director of the National Center for Oncological Research (initialled CNIO in Spanish), which she joined in 2003 as director of the Molecular Oncology Program. She holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and her research has raised her to international eminence in the study of telomeres (the tips of chromosomes) and the enzyme that controls them, telomerase. One of the landmarks of her career was to have demonstrated the importance of telomeres and telomerase in cancer, and that the shortening of telomeres is one of the main causes of aging. In 2008, Blasco’s group proved for the first time that the activation of telomerase is sufficient to slow down aging. Blasco is also a pioneer in the development of a new technique to measure telomeres, whose length is considered a biomarker of the risk of suffering illnesses that are associated with aging, like cancer. She has published more than 200 articles in science journals and received different awards like the Josef Steiner Cancer Research Award (2004), the King James I Prize for Basic Research (2007) and the “Santiago Ramón y Cajal” National Research Prize in Biology (2010).

Mario Vargas Llosa (Arequipa, Peru, 1936) is a writer who has received numerous prizes for his works, including the Prince of Asturias Letters Award (1986), the Planeta Prize (1993), the Cervantes Prize (1995) and the Nobel Prize for Literature (2010). The Hispanic Peruvian man of letters achieved fame in the 1960s with his novels The City and the Dogs (1962) and Conversations in the Cathedral (1969), and many of his works have been adapted into films, such as Pantaleon and the Visitors (1973) and The Feast of the Goat (1998). In addition, he has cultivated other genres such as essays, drama, literary criticism and journalism. Also noteworthy is his journalistic and academic work. In 1977, he was named a member of the Peruvian Academy of Language and Professor of the Simón Bolívar Fellowship at Cambridge, and since 1984 he has been a member of the Royal Spanish Academy.