Scientists from Duke, UNC win chemistry Nobel Prize

Scientists from Duke, UNC win chemistry Nobel Prize

STOCKHOLM — Scientists based at the University of North Carolina and at Duke University were honored Wednesday with the 2015 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced.

American scientists Aziz Sancar of UNC and Paul Modrich of Duke and Sweden's Tomas Lindahl won for work on mapping out how cells repair damaged DNA.

"Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement awarding the 8 million Swedish crowns ($969,000).

"With this map, we can now say to a fellow scientist, 'tell us the gene you're interested in or any spot on the genome, and we'll tell you how it is repaired,'" Sancar said. "Out of six billion base pairs, pick out a spot and we'll tell you how it is repaired."

The academy said their findings have been used for the development of new cancer treatments, among other things.

Sancar said he was stunned to get a call early Wednesday telling him he'd won.

"It was 5 a.m. so I was a bit incoherent," said Sancar. "But I managed to thank him and told them it was an incredible honor."
The 69-year-old Sancar, who holds U.S. and Turkish citizenship, is a professor at the University of North Carolina. Sancar grew up in Turkey and did graduate work at Istanbul University before getting his PhD at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Sancar joined the UNC faculty in 1982.

"My parents were both illiterate," he said in a 2005 interview, "but they valued the importance of education, and did their best to ensure that all of their children would receive some education."

At a news conference Wednesday, UNC chancellor Carol Folt said, "Today we're celebrating another milestone for not just Carolina and Duke but for really our entire region and a celebration of science."

Modrich is based at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.

Paul Modrich's wife, Vickers Burdett, told The Associated Press that they were on vacation in New Hampshire when they heard that Modrich and two other scientists had won a Nobel Prize in chemistry for their studies of DNA repair.

"Wow! I can't express it any better than that. Awesome!" she said in reaction to Wednesday's announcement, which she called "a total shock."

She described her husband as "phenomenal." She says "he's very dedicated, very focused and he has wonderful insights into these experiments."

Lindahl, 77, is based in Britain.

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 Associated Press and NBC News contributed to this article.