Scientists from Duke, UNC win Nobel chemistry award for work on DNA repair

Two Triangle-area researchers won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for pioneering studies into the way our bodies repair damage to DNA.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Two Triangle-area researchers won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for pioneering studies into the way our bodies repair damage to DNA.

"Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions" and is used in developing new cancer treatments, the academy said.

Thomas Lindahl, who is Swedish, was honored along with American Paul Modrich and U.S.-Turkish scientist Aziz Sancar for research done in the 1970s and '80s.

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

In a news conference Wednesday, Sancar remembered his roots -- a town in Turkey, near the Syrian border -- and offered words of peace.

"I hope we all work toward peaceful solutions, scientific solutions, toward our problems rather than concentrating on things that divide us and cause these tremendous tragedies," he said.

Sancar said he went to medical school and became fascinated with DNA, specifically how a cell could repair DNA despite all of the attacks against it.

Down the road at Duke, Dr. Paul Modrich is sharing the prize.

Modrich, on vacation in New Hampshire, said he found out about his prize when a colleague emailed congratulations.

"I never quite put our work in this class, actually," Modrich told the Associated Press. "It's nice to know other people put it in that class."

Though the two scientists work independently, Sancar said he holds his Duke counterpart in high esteem.

"He's been an outstanding colleague and friend over the years, and actually, even though we all hate Duke, I have been nominating him over the last 10 years for the Nobel Prize," Sancar said.

Modrich spoke briefly to WRAL News by phone and called the honor "overwhelming."

Tomas Lindahl, 77, an emeritus group leader at the Francis Crick Institute and emeritus director of cancer research UK at Clare Hall Laboratory in Britain, was also honored.

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

This year's medicine prize went to three scientists from Japan, the U.S. and China who discovered drugs to fight malaria and other tropical diseases. Three physicists from UNC were a part of the research team for Canadian scientists Arthur B. McDonald, one of two men awarded the prize for physics.

The Nobel announcements continue with literature on Thursday, the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday and the economics award on Monday.


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