DNA research deployed in war on cancer earns Nobel prize

Nobel Prize awarded for work into how cells repair DNA damage sheds light on new ways to fight cancer

(REUTERS AND HOWARD HUGHES MEDICAL INSTITUTE VIA REUTERS) – Three scientists from Sweden, the United States and Turkey won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Chemistry on Wednesday (October 7) for working out how cells repair damaged DNA, providing new ammunition in the war on cancer.

Detailed understanding of DNA damage has helped drive a revolution in cancer treatment as researchers develop new drugs that target specific molecular pathways used by tumour cells to proliferate.

Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar won the prize for “mechanistic studies of DNA repair”. Their work mapped how cells repair deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to prevent damaging errors from appearing in genetic information.

In many forms of cancer, one of more of these repair systems is damaged.

“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.

Thousands of alterations to a cell’s genome occur every day due to spontaneous changes and damage by radiation, free radicals and carcinogenic substances – yet DNA remains astonishingly intact.

To keep genetic materials from disintegrating, a range of molecular systems monitor and repair DNA, in processes that the three award-winning scientists helped map out.

Modrich, the third winner, is a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University School of Medicine in the United States.

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.

The prize for medicine was awarded on Monday for work in developing drugs to fight parasitic diseases, while the physics prize went to researchers investigating ghostly sub-atomic particles known as neutrinos.

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