NORTH CAROLINA — Aziz Sancar is most happy for having contributed to the development of Turkish science with his award winning study that is expected to affect the development of cancer treatment.
The University of North Carolina professor is one of three scientists who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for work on DNA repair.
“I’m happy most for my country. Turkey needs science in order to achieve the European standards of science. I’m glad that I have contributed to this process,” he said.
Sancar told Anadolu Agency that he did not expect to receive the Nobel Prize this year, much less in chemistry. He anticipated that his research would win a Nobel award in the medicine category sometime in the future.
“I knew that one day I would receive this prize for my contributions,” Sancar said. “For me, my whole research and the efforts I have given – this prize is a pleasing award of course … But primarily and most, I felt the happiness on behalf of my country.”
He said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Turkish opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, have all called to congratulate him.
Since winning, some users on social media have focused on Sancar’s ethnicity and whether he was really of Turkish origin or belonged to any Turkish ethnicity.
Sancar said he was disturbed by some of the questions he has received from various media outlets from across the globe.
It was disrespectful for the BBC to ask him whether he was an “Arab or half Turkish”, he said.
“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. It doesn’t matter that I was born in Mardin.”
The southeastern Turkish city of Turkey is populated with a high concentration of peoples of Arab, Kurdish and Assyrian origin.
Sancar was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in mapping cells that repair ultraviolet damage to DNA. His research is expected to have major implications for cancer treatment.
“DNA repair is important in terms of preventing the human body against cancer because most of the factors that lead to cancer damage DNA and cause the person to have that disease,” said Sancar. “We have revealed how DNA repairs itself and how the human cells protect themselves against cancer.”
It will take at least five years before his work can be used as a treatment model in fighting cancer, Sancar said, but he believes his research can currently play a significant role in helping to protect against the disease right now.
The Nobel winner isn’t resting on his laurels. He is now working on the biological order of the human body that arranges the systems inside the body.
Sancar is only the second Turk to win a Nobel Prize. Writer Orhan Pamuk was awarded the prize literature in 2006.