Sci­en­tists win No­bel chem­istry award for work on DNA re­pair


Three sci­en­tists from Swe­den, the U.S. and Tur­key won the No­bel Prize in chem­istry on Wed­nes­day for show­ing how cells re­pair dam­aged DNA, work that’s inspired the de­vel­op­ment of new can­cer treat­ments.

Swedish sci­en­tist To­mas Lin­dahl, Amer­i­can Paul Mo­drich and U.S.Turk­ish na­tional Aziz San­car shared the 8 mil­lion Swedish kro­nor (about US$960,000) award for re­search done in the 1970s and ‘80s.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their work on DNA re­pair had pro­vided “fun­da­men­tal knowl­edge” about how cells func­tion and shed light on the mech­a­nisms be­hind both can­cer and ag­ing.

Lin­dahl, 77, is an emer­i­tus group leader at Fran­cis Crick In­sti­tute and Emer­i­tus di­rec­tor of Can­cer Re­search UK at Clare Hall Lab­o­ra­tory in the UK.

Mo­drich, born in 1946, is an in­ves­ti­ga­tor at Howard Hughes Med­i­cal In­sti­tute and pro­fes­sor at Duke Univer­sity School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.

San­car, 69, is a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He is the sec­ond Turk to win a No­bel Prize af­ter nov­el­ist Orhan Pa­muk was awarded the literature prize in 2006.

“I’m sure there will be (cel­e­bra­tions in Tur­key),” San­car said in an in­ter­view pub­lished on the No­bel Foun­da­tion’s web­site. “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.”

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

Paul Mo­drich’s wife, Vick­ers Bur­dett, told The As­so­ci­ated Press by phone that they were on va­ca­tion in New Hamp­shire.

“Wow! I can’t ex­press it any bet­ter than that. Awe­some!” she said in re­ac­tion to the an­nounce­ment, which she called “a to­tal shock.”

The lau­re­ates broke new ground by map­ping and ex­plain­ing how a cell safe­guards its DNA — the mol­e­cule that con­tains our genes. Our DNA 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 re­al­ized 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 model of a DNA stands on a desk dur­ing a press con­fer­ence to an­nounce the win­ners of the No­bel Prize in Chem­istry 2015 on Wed­nes­day, Oct. 7, at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stock­holm, Swe­den.

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