He was born in 1946 in the Savur district of Mardin, the seventh of eight children of a middle-income farmer family. He completed his primary, secondary and high school education in Mardin. He was interested in football during his high school years, but in his last year he gave up being a football player and went to Istanbul to continue his higher education.
He graduated from Istanbul University Faculty of Medicine, which he entered in 1963, with first place in 1969. After working as a physician in a health center in Savur for two years, he went first to Johns Hopkins University and then to the University of Texas at Dallas with a NATO-TÜBİTAK scholarship. He attended the university’s molecular biology program and Caude Rupert’s laboratory in Dallas. In this laboratory, Sancar, with his advisor Claud Rupert, colonized a gene called photolyase and reproduced it at very high rates in bacteria with genetic engineering. The enzyme encoded by this gene repairs DNA damaged by ultraviolet lights. This invention was made by Dr. It enabled Sancar to get his master’s degree and then his doctorate degree (1977).
Sancar worked at Yale University School of Medicine between 1977-1982. During this period, he stopped his photolyase enzyme studies and started researches on nucleotide cut repair. He completed his associate professorship thesis in DNA repair. Since 1997, she has been continuing her research as Sarah Graham Kenan Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, which is known for her studies in Biochemistry and Biophysics.
Continuing his studies on DNA repair, cell sequencing, cancer treatment and biological clock, Sancar has published 415 scientific articles and 33 books. Sancar received awards for his use of the circadian clock in cancer treatment. In 2001, Sancar was awarded the North Carolina Distinguished Chemist Award given by the American Chemistry Society. He became an American Turk. After receiving this award, she and her husband established the Aziz & Gwen Sancar Foundation in order to help Turkish students studying in the USA and improve Turkish-American relations, and opened a student guesthouse called “Carolina Turkish House” in the US state of North Carolina. She was elected as a full member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences in 2006.
Sancar was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, together with American Paul Modrich and Swedish Tomas Lindahl, for his work on DNA repair. These three researchers have been working independently of each other for more than 30 years and mostly in bacterial cells. Sancar made breakthroughs in the field of nucleotide cut repair, while Tomas Lindahl and Paul Modrich discovered some cut repair and mismatch repair, which are other DNA repair mechanisms. The fundamental mechanisms they illuminate were later demonstrated in complex organisms, including humans.
For example, a direct causal relationship has been found between nucleotide cut repair disorders and skin cancers. Sancar was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences at the ceremony held on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. Presented by Carl Gustaf. Sancar said, “It is the education revolution of Atatürk and the Republic of Turkey that took me to the award. Therefore, the owner of this award is Atatürk and Anıtkabir Museum, which represents the Republic of Turkey.” He delivered the Nobel Prize, medal and certificate to Anıtkabir. The award is exhibited in the special area reserved for it at the Atatürk and War of Independence Museum in Anıtkabir.
Turkey and the United States hold dual citizenship. He is married to Gwen Boles Sancar, a professor of biochemistry.
Awards and achievements
- US National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award (1984)
- American Society for Photobiology Award (1990)
- US National Institutes of Health Award (1995)
- Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) Science Award (1997)
- American Academy of Arts and Sciences Award (2004)
- Member of the US National Academy of Sciences (2005)
- Member of TÜBA (Turkish Academy of Sciences) (2006)
- Vehbi Koç Award (2007)
- Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2015)