Tuesday, 20 October 2015

2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: A breakthrough for DNA Repair research and cancer treatment

This year, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2015 has been awarded jointly to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar "for mechanistic studies of DNA repair" – they mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information. The work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is, for instance, used for the development of new cancer treatments. Nature Magazine is calling “The Nobel Prize 2015: The year of DNA repair”. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded annually by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to scientists in the various fields of chemistry. To date, the prize has been awarded 107 times to 172 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2015.

About the study - The cells’ toolbox for DNA repair
Each day our DNA is damaged by UV radiation, free radicals and other carcinogenic substances, but even without such external attacks, a DNA molecule is inherently unstable. Thousands of spontaneous changes to a cell’s genome occur on a daily basis. Furthermore, defects can also arise when DNA is copied during cell division, a process that occurs several million times every day in the human body.

The reason our genetic material does not disintegrate into complete chemical chaos is that a host of molecular systems continuously monitor and repair DNA. 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.

In the early 1970s, scientists believed that DNA was an extremely stable molecule, but Tomas Lindahl demonstrated that DNA decays at a rate that ought to have made the development of life on Earth impossible. This insight led him to discover a molecular machinery, base excision repair, which constantly counteracts the collapse of our DNA.

Aziz Sancar has mapped nucleotide excision repair, the mechanism that cells use to repair UV damage to DNA. People born with defects in this repair system will develop skin cancer if they are exposed to sunlight. The cell also utilises nucleotide excision repair to correct defects caused by mutagenic substances, among other things.

Paul Modrich has demonstrated how the cell corrects errors that occur when DNA is replicated during cell division. This mechanism, mismatch repair, reduces the error frequency during DNA replication by about a thousand fold. Congenital defects in mismatch repair are known, for example, to cause a hereditary variant of colon cancer.

The Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2015 have provided fundamental insights into how cells function, knowledge that can be used, for instance, in the development of new cancer treatments.

Interesting fact
Frederick Sanger is the only Nobel Laureate who has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry twice, in 1958 and 1980. This means that a total of 171 individuals have received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

For more information about this year’s prize (including scientific background and some illustrations), click here.

The Nobel Prizes in Chemistry won during the last decade by:

  • 2014 Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy
  • 2013 Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems
  • 2012 Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors
  • 2011 Dan Shechtman for the discovery of quasicrystals
  • 2010 Richard F. Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis
  • 2009 Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A. Steitz and Ada E. Yonath for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome
  • 2008 Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP
  • 2007 Gerhard Ertl for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces
  • 2006 Roger D. Kornberg for his studies of the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription
  • 2005 Yves Chauvin, Robert H. Grubbs and Richard R. Schrock for the development of the metathesis method in organic synthesis

More information
You can find more information about each study here.

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