nobel_002“To be honest, my main goal in life was to play soccer for the Turkish National Team,” said Aziz Sancar, donning a red Turkey soccer jersey on the request of a Turkish media outlet recently. “But I was about four inches too short to play goalkeeper.”
He never played for the national team. He had to settle for the highest honor a scientist can receive — a Nobel Prize.
Sancar, the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the UNC School of Medicine, earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year for his work on mapping the cellular mechanisms that underlie DNA repair, which occurs every single minute of the day due to environmental factors. In particular, Sancar mapped nucleotide excision repair, which is vital to fixing UV damage to DNA. When this repair system is defective, people exposed to sunlight develop skin cancer.
Also, Sancar showed that other substances can damage the nucleotide excision repair system. His work provides the crucial basic knowledge necessary to develop better treatments that protect against DNA damage, which can result in cancer.
Two others also won the prize for chemistry: Tomas Lindahl of the Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory in Great Britain, and Paul Modrich of Duke University School of Medicine and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
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By Mark Derewicz, UNC Health Care

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