Three scientists have won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for work on mapping how cells repair damaged DNA, giving insight into cancer treatments.
Sweden’s Tomas Lindahl, US-based Paul Modrich and Turkish-born Aziz Sancar were announced the winners by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
“Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is, for instance, used for the development of new cancer treatments,” the academy said.
DNA — deoxyribonucleic acid — is the chemical code for making and sustaining life.
When cells divide, molecular machines seek to replicate the code perfectly but random slip-ups in their work can cause the daughter cells to die or malfunction.
DNA can also be damaged by strong sunlight and other environmental factors.
But there is a swarm of proteins — a molecular repair kit — designed to monitor the process. It proof-reads the code and repairs damage.
The three scientists were lauded for mapping these processes, starting with Dr Lindahl who identified so-called repair enzymes, the basics in the toolbox.
Professor Sancar discovered the mechanisms used by cells to fix damage by ultraviolet radiation, while Dr Modrich laid bare a complex DNA-mending process called mismatch repair.
“The basic research carried out by the 2015 Nobel laureates in chemistry has not only deepened our knowledge of how we function but could also lead to the development of lifesaving treatments,” the Nobel committee said.
Dr Lindahl works at Britain’s Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory, while Dr Modrich is a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University School of Medicine.
Sancar, who has US and Turkish citizenship, is a professor at the University of North Carolina.
The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will.