“I’m really overwhelmed. I don’t know what to say,” Sancar said. “This is a recognition of the work done by many students and colleagues over the years.”
Sancar’s award-winning work centered around the mapping of DNA repair mechanisms in cells, especially involving damage from ultraviolet light, a cause of skin cancer.
“It is the knowledge of DNA repair that made it clear that cigarette smoke damages DNA, and that’s why it causes cancer. And this is why there has been a great reduction in smoking in this country and other countries,” he said. “Sunlight can induce skin cancer caused by DNA damage. If you prevent that, you reduce skin cancer.”
Sancar said his work began when he was a graduate student at the University of Texas. Sancar has worked at UNC since 1982. He previously discovered that the circadian clock regulates the repair of DNA damaged by ultraviolet light.
Chancellor Carol Folt said she is impressed by Sancar’s constant work ethic.
“I talked to him in his laboratory this morning. I asked if they were celebrating, and he said all of the students and everyone in there were trying to still get work done,” Folt said.
Folt said Sancar’s award comes with a lifetime campus parking pass.
“I was talking to him this morning, and I said, ‘Oh, the Nobel Prize is great, but I have even better news. You get a lifetime free parking pass,’” Folt said. “So I thought that was pretty good, but he laughed and said, ‘Well, I have an even bigger surprise — I don’t drive.’”