Aziz Sancar

Aziz Sancar

Aziz Sancar, Nobel Laureate in chemistry in Stockholm 2015
Born (1946-09-08) September 8, 1946
Savur, Mardin, Turkey
Citizenship Turkey and United States
Nationality Turkish
Alma mater
Notable awards
Spouses Gwen Sancar[3]

Aziz Sancar (born 8 September 1946) is a Turkish-American biochemist and molecular biologist specializing in DNA repair, cell cycle checkpoints, and circadian clock.[4] In 2015, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Tomas Lindahl and Paul L. Modrich for their mechanistic studies of DNA repair.[5][6]

Sancar is currently the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.[7] He is the co-founder of the Aziz & Gwen Sancar Foundation, which is a non-profit organization to promote Turkish culture and to support Turkish students in the United States.[3]

Early life

Savur district of Mardin Province, Turkey

Aziz Sancar was born into a lower-middle-class family, where he spoke Arabic with his parents and Turkish with his siblings, in the Savur district of Mardin Province, southeastern Turkey on September 8, 1946.[8][9] His oldest brother; Kenan Sancar is a retired Brigadier-General of the Turkish Armed Forces.[10] He is the cousin of HDP Mardin deputy Mithat Sancar.[11] He was the seventh of eight children.[12]

His parents were illiterate; however, they put great emphasis on education.[12] He was educated by idealistic teachers who received their education in the Village Institutes, he later stated that this was a great inspiration to him. Throughout his school life, Sancar had great academic success that was noted by his teachers. He wanted to study chemistry whilst at high school, but was persuaded to study medicine after five of his classmates also got into medicine along with him. As such, he studied medicine at the Faculty of Medicine of Istanbul University.[8]

In an interview, Sancar stated that in his youth, he was a nationalist, attending local meetings of the Grey Wolves organization, which is affiliated with the Turkish nationalist political party MHP, though he did not actively participate in ideological confrontations.[13][14]


Istanbul University - Faculty of Medicine

Sancar received his primary education near his hometown of Savur.[13] He then completed his MD degree in Istanbul University of Turkey and completed his PhD degree on the photoreactivating enzyme of E. coli in 1977 at the University of Texas at Dallas[15] in the laboratory of Dr. C. Stan Rupert, now Professor Emeritus.


Aziz Sancar is honorary member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences[16] and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[17]

After graduating from Istanbul University, Sancar returned to Savur. Although he wanted to go to the United States, he was recommended to try out being a doctor and he worked as a doctor in the region for 1.5 years. He then won a scholarship from TÜBİTAK to pursue further education in biochemistry at Johns Hopkins University, but returned to Savur in 1973 as a doctor after spending 1.5 years there due to having social difficulties and inability to adapt to the American way of life. He only spoke French when he arrived in the US but learned English during his education at Johns Hopkins.[8]

Soon after, he wrote to Stan Rupert, who had been involved in the discovery of DNA repair and was at Johns Hopkins during Sancar's time there but had since moved to the University of Texas at Dallas. He was accepted and completed his PhD in molecular biology there.[8]

After completing his PhD, Sancar worked at Yale University for five years. He was then accepted as a lecturer at the University of North Carolina, the only university that he got a positive response from out of the 50 he applied to. He has stated that his accent of English was detrimental to his career as a lecturer.[8]

His longest-running study has involved photolyase and the mechanisms of photo-reactivation. In his inaugural article in the PNAS, Sancar captures the elusive photolyase radicals he has chased for nearly 20 years, thus providing direct observation of the photocycle for thymine dimer repair.[18]

Model of Photolyase based on 1QNF

Aziz Sancar was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2005 as the first Turkish-American member.[18] He is the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is married to Gwen Boles Sancar, who graduated the same year and who is also a Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[19] Together, they founded Carolina Türk Evi, a permanent Turkish Center in close proximity to the campus of UNC-CH, which provides graduate housing for four Turkish researchers at UNC-CH, short term guest services for Turkish visiting scholars, and a center for promoting Turkish-American interchange.[3]

Research on circadian clock

2015 Nobel prize in Chemistry, Anıtkabir Mseum, Ankara
Main article: Circadian clock

Sancar and his research team have discovered that two genes, Period and Cryptochrome, keep the circadian clocks of all human cells in proper rhythm, syncing them to the 24 hours of the day and seasons.[20] Their findings were published in the Genes and Development journal in September 16, 2014. Sancar's research has provided a complete understanding of the workings of Circadian clocks in humans, which may be used to treat a wide range of different illnesses and disorders such as jet-lag and seasonal affective disorder, and may be useful in controlling and optimizing various cancer treatments.[21]

Personal life

Sancar is married to Gwen Boles Sancar, with whom he met during his PhD in Dallas, where she was also studying molecular biology. They got married in 1978.[22][23]

In the immediate aftermath of winning the Nobel Prize, his ethnicity was questioned in social media.[24] Sancar said he was "disturbed by some of the questions he received," particularly by questions about his ethnic background. When asked as to whether he is "a Turk or half-Arab" by the BBC, Aziz Sancar responded: "I told them that I neither speak Arabic nor Kurdish and that I was a Turk," he said. "I'm a Turk, that's it."[25]

Aziz Sancar's brother Tahir said in an interview that their family descended from Oghuz Turks who once migrated from Central Asia. He also said that his brother's Nobel Prize was an honor for all of Turkey, including the Kurds.[26]


He was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Tomas Lindahl and Paul L. Modrich for their mechanistic studies of DNA repair.[5][6] He was granted Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation in Molecular Biophysics in 1984.[27] Sancar is the second Turkish Nobel laureate after Orhan Pamuk, who is also an alumnus of Istanbul University.

Aziz Sancar donated his original Nobel Prize golden medal and certificate to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, with a presidential ceremony on 19 May 2016, which is the 97th anniversary of Atatürk initiating the Turkish War of Independence.[28][29] He delivered a replica of his Nobel medal and certificate to Istanbul University, from which he earned his MD.[30]


  1. "Geçmiş Yıllarda Bilim Ödülü Alanlar" (in Turkish). Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  2. "Ödül Alanlar". Vehbi Koç Award. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 "The Aziz & Gwen Sancar Foundation – Carolina Türk Evi – Turkish House, NC". Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  4. "Aziz Sancar". UNC School of Medicine. Retrieved December 5, 2015.
  5. 1 2 Broad, William J. (7 October 2015). "Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar for DNA Studies". New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  6. 1 2 Staff (7 October 2015). "THE NOBEL PRIZE IN CHEMISTRY 2015 - DNA repair – providing chemical stability for life" (PDF). Nobel Prize. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  7. "UNC-Chapel Hill Scientist Aziz Sancar Wins Nobel Prize for Chemistry" (Press release). UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. 7 October 2015. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "Nobeli alan Prof. Aziz Sancar konuştu" [Nobel Prize winner Prof. Aziz Sancar speaks out] (in Turkish). CNN Türk. 11 October 2015. Retrieved 12 December 2015. Anne babayla Arapça konuşurduk ama çocuklar kendi aramızda Türkçe konuşarak büyüdük.
  9. "Nobel Prize in Chemistry: how our DNA repairs itself". Deutsch Welle. 7 October 2015.
  11. "Turkish-American scientist among winners of 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry". Today's Zaman. Archived from the original on October 11, 2015. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  12. 1 2 "Nobel Kimya Ödülü'nü Türk asıllı Aziz Sancar kazandı (Aziz Sancar kimdir)". Hürriyet (in Turkish). 2015-10-07. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
  13. 1 2 "Nobel'li Prof. Aziz Sancar: Lise yıllarında ülkücüydüm; sinema ve tiyatroya hiç gitmedim". T24. 11 October 2015.
  14. "Aziz Sancar - Ropörtaj". Hürriyet. 10 October 2015. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  15. "Aziz Sancar". UNC School of Medicine. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
  16. "Prof. Dr. Aziz Sancar". Turkish Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  17. "American Academy Announces 2004 Fellows and Foreign Honorary Members". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  18. 1 2 Zagorski, N. (2005). "Profile of Aziz Sancar". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 102 (45): 16125–16127. doi:10.1073/pnas.0507558102. PMC 1283445Freely accessible. PMID 16263927.
  19. "Biology : Aziz Sancar elected to the National Academy of Sciences". Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  20. Ye, Rui; Selby, Cristopher P.; Chiou, Yi-Ying; Ozkan-Dagliyan, Irem; Gaddameedhi, Shobhan; Sancar, Aziz (15 September 2014). "Dual modes of CLOCK:BMAL1 inhibition mediated by Cryptochrome and Period proteins in the mammalian circadian clock". Genes & Development. 28 (18): 1989–1998. doi:10.1101/gad.249417.114. ISSN 1549-5477. PMID 25228643.
  21. Derewicz, Mark. "Sancar lab finds final pieces to the circadian clock puzzle". UNC SCHOOL of MEDICINE. The University of North Carolina. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  22. "For Aziz Sancar, long hours in lab lead to triumph". The News and Observer. 25 December 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  23. "Aziz Sancar receives 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award from University of Texas, Dallas". UNC School of Medicine. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  24. Arango, Tim (12 October 2015). "Deadly Ankara Attack Not Enough to Unify a Polarized Turkey". New York Times. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  25. Esra Kaymak; Erkan Avci (8 October 2015). "Turkish Nobel Prize winner happy most for his country". Anadolu Agency. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  26. "Nobel ödüllü Sancar'ı ailesi anlattı" (in Turkish). Anadolu Agency. 8 October 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2015 via TRT Haber.
  27. Award Abstract #8351212, National Science Foundation
  28. "UNC Nobel laureates Oliver Smithies and Aziz Sancar present medals to UNC". UNC Healthcate. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  29. "Cumhurbaşkanı Erdoğan, Nobel Ödülü'nün Anıtkabir Komutanlığına Takdim Törenine Katıldı". Presidency of the Republic of Turkey. 19 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  30. "Nobel laureate Sancar donates his award to Anıtkabir". Hürriyet Daily News. 19 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016.

External links

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