Trio wins Nobel in chemistry for work on DNA repair

Turk Aziz Sancar, Swede Tomas Lindahl and American Paul Modrich win prize for showing how cells repair damaged DNA.

The trio won the award for demonstrating how cells repair damaged DNA [AP]
The trio won the award for demonstrating how cells repair damaged DNA [AP]

Three scientists from Sweden, the US and Turkey have won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for showing how cells repair damaged DNA, work that can be used to develop new cancer treatments. 

Nobel Physics Prize for neutrino insights

Swedish scientist Tomas Lindahl, American Paul Modrich and US-Turkish national Aziz Sancar shared the $960,000 prize, awarded on Wednesday.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their work on DNA repair “has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions” and can be used for the development of new cancer treatments, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Sancar is a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Sancar is the second Turk to win a Nobel Prize after novelist Orhan Pamuk was awarded the literature prize in 2006, and the first in a scientific field.

Celebrations in Turkey

“I’m sure there will be [celebrations in Turkey],” Sancar said. “Yes, they’ve been asking over the years, and I was tired of hearing ‘When are you going to get the Nobel Prize?’, so I’m glad for my country as well.”

Sancar added that he hoped his award would inspire younger Turkish scientists.

Lindahl is an emeritus group leader at Francis Crick Institute and Emeritus director of Cancer Research UK at Clare Hall Laboratory in the UK.

Modrich is an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.

Speaking by phone to a news conference in Stockholm, Lindahl said “it was a surprise” to win the award.

Cancer treatments

Our DNA, the molecule that contains our genes, is constantly under assault from ultraviolet rays from the sun and carcinogenic substances.

But it was thought to be a stable molecule until the 1970s when Lindahl showed that it decays at a rate that seemed incompatible with human life.

He realised that there must a repair mechanism, opening a new field of research, the academy said.

Working at Yale University, Sancar mapped the mechanism that cells use to repair UV-damaged DNA. Modrich showed how the cell corrects errors when DNA is replicated during cell division, a process known as mismatch repair.

The findings are significant for cancer research because cancer cells are kept alive by DNA repair mechanisms. Researchers are now looking at ways to destroy the repair mechanisms within the cancer cells to kill them, academy member Peter Brzezinski said.

The academy highlighted one such drug that’s already on the market: Olaparib, which is used to fight ovarian cancer.

The award will be handed out along with the other Nobel Prizes on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

Source: AP


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