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Seven fun facts about Sweden's Nobel laureate

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Seven fun facts about Sweden's Nobel laureate
Tomas Lindahl pictured in Hertfordshire in the UK on the day of his win. Photo: AP/Alastair Grant
13:16 CEST+02:00
Swedish cancer researcher Tomas Lindahl will share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Aziz Sancar and Paul Modrich. Here's what you need to know about Sweden's homegrown Nobel laureate.

1. Celebrated in Sweden...

It was a bit of a surprise win, but the Swedes are already getting excited about getting their 29th Nobel winner in Tomas Lindahl, who is only the fourth Swedish Chemistry laureate ever. Last time a Swede was handed a Nobel prize in a scientific field was in 2000, when Arvid Carlsson received the accolade for his research into signal substances in the nervous system.

Lindahl is also one of the members of the Royal Academy of Sciences, which selects the Chemistry laureate, but the Academy insisted that he did not participate in the voting process or any meetings leading up to his announcement.

2… and in the United Kingdom

He moved to the UK in the 1980s, where he was the director of Cancer Research UK's Clare Hall Laboratory in Hertfordshire from 1986 to 2005, while he kept working out the DNA repair processes in humans. He is also a Professor Emeritus of the Francis Crick Institute, a medical research centre in London.

3. He is a pioneer in his area...

The Nobel Prize-winning discovery begun with research carried out by Lindahl in the 1960s and 70s. Starting at the Karolinska Insitute in Stockholm, he demonstrated that DNA was not as stable as many believed and decays at a speed faster than previously thought. This led him to work out a molecular machinery called 'base excision repair' which helps counteract the collapse of our DNA.

4. ... but he's not the only winner

While Sweden is understandably getting the most excited about its homegrown winner, Lindahl was jointly awarded the prize together with scientists Aziz Sancar and Paul Modrich, for "having mapped and explained how the cell repairs its DNA and safeguards the genetic information".

Modrich is based at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University School of Medicine in the United States while US-Turkish researcher Sancar works at the University of North Carolina. The trio will share the prize amount of 8 million kronor.

5. His work could help cure cancer

That's possibly an exaggeration, but Lindahl's discovery is an important step on the way. His research on how cells repair damaged DNA provides important knowledge of how a living cell works and could be used to help develop new cancer treatments.

Here's what Professor Peter Brzezinski from the Nobel Assembly told The Local on Wednesday: "It's often the case that discoveries occur in large steps. We accumulate knowledge and then suddenly something happens and we connect things. (…) For example this information can be used to help develop new cancer drugs."

6. He comes from a family of scientists

Lindahl's brother is a retired professor of medical microbiology at Lund University in southern Sweden and his daughter as well as his nephew are scientists. The latter, Erik Lindahl, himself a professor in biophysics at Stockholm University, told The Local that the family still enjoys to get together at places such as Rosendals Trädgård (a garden and cafe) on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm. 

"It's good to see that we have at least one good scientist in the family," he joked when asked about his uncle's win by The Local.

7. His main hobby is not science

While not busy repairing DNA, Lindahl is a keen wine connaisseur. Here's what his nephew Erik Lindahl told The Local on Wednesday: "Occasionally I realize that my wife thinks that I am a bit of a dry researcher and only focusing on that. My father is probably slightly worse - also a professor. Tomas is ten times worse than either of us. Tomas is entirely focused on research, apart from one thing and that's wine."

"When I was a post-doc at Stanford, where my cousin, who is actually Tomas' daughter, was also at the time… when Tomas came over he had an entire agenda filled with all the vineyards we were going to visit!"

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