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Retired UK-based scientist awarded Nobel prize for DNA repair research

Published 07/10/2015

Sweden's Tomas Lindahl, one of the joint winners of the 2015 Nobel Prize for chemistry, at the Francis Crick Institute in Potters Bar (AP)
Sweden's Tomas Lindahl, one of the joint winners of the 2015 Nobel Prize for chemistry, at the Francis Crick Institute in Potters Bar (AP)
An X-ray-based image of DNA

A Swedish-born scientist working in the UK has been awarded a Nobel prize for his pioneering research on DNA repair in cells.

Dr Tomas Lindahl shares the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with two other scientists, Professor Paul Modrich from the US and Dr Aziz Sancar from Turkey.

The Swede, now retired, is a former director of the Clare Hall Laboratory in Potters Bar, Hertforshire, part of the Francis Crick Institute.

Clare Hall belonged to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund before its incorporation into the Cancer Research UK charity in 2002.

Dr Lindahl and his fellow laureates are said to have transformed our understanding of the way potential cancers are prevented by cellular mechanisms that repair damaged DNA. When this process goes wrong, it can lead to cancer.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: " I'm absolutely delighted for Tomas, one of our most brilliant scientists and leaders.

"Thanks to his vision and creative genius, he was one of the first scientists to spot the process of DNA repair - something we now know plays a fundamental role in the development of cancer.

"His work led to a deeper understanding of why the disease develops and, crucially for patients, treatments that target cancer's weak spots in DNA repair."

DNA repair is chiefly carried out by enzymes - chemically active proteins - that remove and fix potentially cancer-causing mutations.

Without them, every single person on the planet would be riddled with cancer and life would be very short.

Professor Malcolm Alison, from Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary, University of London, said: " Tomas Lindahl has been a pioneer in this incredibly important area since all our genomes are continually subjected to millions of DNA-damaging mutations, yet cancer is relatively rare because of these repair (surveillance) mechanisms.

"DNA repair enzymes are analogous to proof readers of a text, continually searching for errors in the DNA alphabet of four letters (A, T, G and C), and probably succeeding in 99% of cases."

Dr Lindahl is a fellow of the Royal Society, whose vice president Sir Martyn Poliakoff, said: "Understanding the ways in which DNA repairs itself is fundamental to our understanding of inherited genetic disorders and of diseases like cancer.

"The important work that ... Tomas Lindahl has done has helped us gain greater insight into these essential processes."

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