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Turkish-born Aziz Sancar among 2015 Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry

Turkish-born Aziz Sancar, Sweden’s Tomas Lindahl and American Paul Modrich won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work on mapping how cells repair damaged DNA, the award-giving body said on Wednesday.

“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 Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement awarding the 8 million Swedish crowns ($969,000).

Sancar, 69, holds US and Turkish citizenship, and was born in Savur, a district of Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin.

Sancar is the cousin of Mardin deputy Mithat Sancar, who is from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Sancar left Turkey and migrated to America in 1971. He began his PhD in the field of molecular biology at the University of Texas at Dallas in 1977. He then completed his associate professorship thesis at Yale University in the field of DNA repair.

He is now a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. Speaking by phone at a news conference in Stockholm, Lindahl said “it was a surprise” to win the award.

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 realized that there must be 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, while Modrich showed how the cell corrects errors when DNA is replicated during cell division.

The academy said their research “has not only deepened our knowledge of how we function, but could also lead to the development of life-saving treatments.”

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.

Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Sancar’s cousin in Mardin, Abdulğani Sancar, said all of his relatives are very proud of the success of Professor Sancar.

“My cousin is a very good person. He provides scholarships to many children in Savur. He talks with the school principals and provide scholarships to students in need,” Abdulğani Sancar said.

Former Turkish President Abdullah Gül congratulated Professor Sancar for his success in a tweet posted on Wednesday. Gül said Sancar’s success will inspire many Turkish scientists.

Sancar is now the second Turk to have won a Nobel prize, with the first being novelist Orhan Pamuk.

Chemistry was the third of this year’s Nobel prizes. 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.

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