nobel alumnus aziz sancar


Dr. Aziz Sancar accepts the prize from H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

On Oct. 7, 2015, Dr. Aziz Sancar, who earned his PhD in molecular and cell biology from UT Dallas in 1977, reached the pinnacle of scientific achievement when he was named a winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. A recipient of a 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award, he is the first alumnus in the University’s history to be honored by the international organization. Sancar (pronounced SAN-jar), the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, received the prize along with two other scientists for their efforts to map how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard genetic information. Sancar’s work, which grew from his research on DNA repair at UT Dallas, provides great insight on hereditary disease and cancer.

Foundation of Achievement

In the mid-1970s, as a physician who had come to the U.S. to study and wanting to learn more about DNA repair, Aziz Sancar reached out to one of the field’s pioneers, Dr. Claud Stanley Rupert at UT Dallas.

"I knew I watned to work on DNA repair, and I wanted to work with Dr. Rupert, so I contacted him," Sancar said. "He gave me an ambigious answer, so I just showeed up at his lab and said, 'You didn't say no.'"

At UT Dallas, Aziz's work focused on DNA repair in a bacterium, partly because in the 1970s, bacteria provided a much simpler experimental system than other organisms.

"UT Dallas was the world center for DNA repair research," Aziz said, "with at least five scientists working on different aspects. It was extremely stimulating intellectual environment."

As Sancar’s PhD advisor and mentor, Rupert suggested that he try to clone a gene for an enzyme called photolyase, which Rupert had been "playing" with, as the elder scientist described it. The enzume repairs a cell’s DNA that has been damaged by ultraviolet light.

"He worked tremendous hours," Rupert said. "He probably worked 90 hours a week. Nothing else existed but his work. If he wasn't in the lab, he was in the library reading journals."

Sancar successfully cloned that gene, and was the first to purify and describe photolyase.

“It was the foundation of everything I have done since,” he said.

Sancar elevated everybody’s game in the lab, said Rupert, now a UT Dallas professor emeritus.

“I never had a student like him. He’s my masterpiece, so to speak, except I didn’t do (the work), he did it. He’s the guy who put in the hours and just would not stop until he had it just the way he wanted it. It was a great experience to have him in the lab.


Dr. Claud Stanley Rupert (left), professor emeritus at UT Dallas, and
Dr. Aziz Sancar.


During his time at UT Dallas, Dr. Aziz Sancar laid the groundwork for his prize-winning research with his exploration of DNA repair. The following are two studies he co-authored with Dr. Claud Stanley Rupert:

• Cloning of the phr gene/photolyase amplification (published December 1978)

• Identifying plasmid-coded proteins (published January 1979)


A  Bond of Science and Service

Dr. Aziz Sancar and Dr. Gwen Sancar.

Working long hours in a UT Dallas lab paid off scientifically for Sancar, but it had other life-changing ramifications as well. He met Gwen Boles, a Texas native and fellow PhD student in molecular biology. The two created a bond that would eventually lead the UT Dallas alumni to marriage and a partnership in science and service that has lasted nearly 40 years.

“Aziz and I were both very hardworking grad students, and two of the few who tended to work very late in the lab, so we would meet in the evenings over equipment, basically,” said Dr. Gwen Sancar MS’74, PhD’77.

The couple married in 1978 and joined the University of North Carolina medical school faculty in 1982. Several years ago, they created the Aziz and Gwen Sancar Foundation to help promote closer ties between the U.S. and Turkey, Aziz’s native country. In Chapel Hill, they established the Carolina Turk Evi, or Turkish House, to help Turkish students adapt and transition to American culture.


Dr. Aziz Sancar’s Nobel Diploma is a unique work of art, hand-lettered by Annika Rücker. The nature of Sancar’s work is summarized within the calligraphy and design.




’I started on DNA repair at UT Dallas, and I have continued for over 40 years on that path. The University has had a significant impact on my research.’

-Dr. Aziz Sancar



  • Meaning of Prize for UT Dallas
  • Dr. Aziz Sancar's Nobel Lecture


  • Sancar Receives 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award


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