The three scientists awarded with the Nobel in chemistry —Tomas Lindahl, Paul L. Modrich and Aziz Sancar— made outstanding discoveries in the field of DNA, and its repairing mechanisms, contributing to the fight against cancer.

On Wednesday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Science awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar “for mechanistic studies of DNA repair.” Credit: Nobel Media

Their studies, done separately from each other, “Provided crucial insights into how a living cell functions, about the molecular causes of several hereditary diseases, and about mechanisms behind both cancer development and aging,” according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Lindhal, from the Francis Crick Institute in London, based his research on the cellular mechanism for repairing the DNA during its life-cycle. The work provided by Dr. Modrich, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, explains the way that cells fix errors when the DNA gets replicated during cell division. And Dr. Sancar, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, mapped the mechanism from the cell that repairs ultraviolet damage to the DNA.

“To provide better treatment and better [cancer] drugs, we, of course, have to understand how DNA is damaged,” said Dr. Lindahl, in a phone call during the award announcement, according to the Wall Street Journal.

These scientists have proven wrong the idea that the molecule of DNA was stable and that it wasn’t susceptible to suffer deformations and diseases due to various factors, like ultraviolet radiation or smoking. Moreover, these factors should be sufficient to destroy the DNA, but they have showed its healing mechanisms.

But, what does this have to do with cancer? Cancerogenic cells are alive thanks to these DNA repairing features. If scientists find a way to deactivate them on these cells, they would die, along with cancer. Nevertheless, The Academy remembered that all there is, is one drug already in the market: olaparib, used against ovarian cancer.

“As far as I know, every single drug company in the world in this field is looking at new ways to treat cancer. This is one way to attack cancer cells – to inhibit repair,” said Olof Ramström, professor in chemistry at the Royal Institute of Technology and member of the prize committee, according to CBS News.

The award, created on the name of Alfred Nobel who invented dynamite, is going to be handed on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.

Source: Wall Street Journal