Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 goes to three geneticists who could transform cancer treatment

Sarah Spickernell
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Knowing how cells repair themselves is crucial for understanding cancer development
Knowing how cells repair themselves is crucial for understanding cancer development (Source: Getty)

Three geneticists whose discoveries could transform cancer treatment have been awarded this year's Nobel Prize for chemistry.

Thomas Lindhal from Sweden, Paul Modrich from the US and Aziz Sancar from Turkey made findings that shed light on how the body repairs genetic damage and keeps DNA healthy.

Read more: Nobel Prize for medicine: These discoveries shaped the last decade in medical research

In the case of cancer, the uncontrollable multiplication of cells that defines the disease is caused by genetic mutations that have gone unchecked by the body's repair system. Understanding how the genes are usually protected from these changes opens the door to a whole new generation of treatments.

In a statement, the Nobel Assembly said:

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 awards three pioneering scientists who have mapped how several of these repair systems function at a detailed molecular level.

The Laureates have provided fundamental insights into how cells function, knowledge that can be used, for instance, in the development of new cancer treatments.

So what exactly did each winner discover? Tomas Lindhal demonstrated that if DNA goes unmonitored, it decays so quickly that life on earth ought not to be possible. Realising this led him to discover a cellular process called base excision repair, which constantly works against DNA disintegration.

Paul Modrich showed that when a cell's DNA is replicated during cell division, a process called mismatch repair ensures any errors are corrected. Overall, this reduces the creation of errors in DNA by a thousandfold.

Aziz Sancar mapped a mechanism called nucleotide excision repair at the molecular level. This is the process that cells use to repair genetic damage caused by UV rays.

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