Aziz Sancar and Kenan Sahin will be keynote speakers at the TASSA 2016 Conference

During the TASSA 2016 Conference, Aziz Sancar, MD, PhD, the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the UNC School of Medicine, member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Dr. Kenan Sahin, founder and Chief Executive Officer of TIAX LLC, will be joining us as keynote speakers.

Aziz Sancar, MD, PhD, is the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the UNC School of Medicine and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Born in 1946 in Savur-Mardin, Turkey, Sancar was the seventh of eight children born of illiterate parents who stressed education. Sancar took well to school and to soccer, playing goalkeeper in high school and earning an invitation to try out for Turkey’s under-18 national soccer team, a dream he held since he was a small child. In the end, he was too short to pursue soccer on the national level and decided instead to focus on his studies. His high marks earned him entrance into the school of his choice in Turkey, and he chose Istanbul Medical School. He graduated in 1969 and practiced medicine near his hometown for two years.

Sancar then earned a NATO fellowship to study at Johns Hopkins, where Stan Rupert had discovered DNA repair in 1958. By the time Sancar met him, Rupert had moved to the University of Texas at Dallas, where he was trying to purify the repair enzyme photolyase, but he was unable to because the enzyme is not abundant. Sancar joined Rupert as a graduate student in 1974 and worked to increase the amount of the enzyme by cloning the gene that encodes for it. Sancar cloned the gene in 1975, making him the first scientist east of the Rocky Mountains to clone a gene. For this work, Sancar earned his PhD in 1977 and moved on as a postdoc to Yale University, where he invented the maxicell method of identifying proteins and figured out the mechanism of another DNA enzyme system called nucleotide excision repair. Sancar cloned the genes responsible for this kind of DNA repair in bacteria and purified the proteins encoded by these genes. These proteins, acting together, cut out a 41-nanometer stretch of the double helix strand to remove damaged DNA.

Sancar returned to his photolyase research in 1982 when he was recruited to UNC by Mary Ellen Jones, PhD, the first female department chair at UNC. Here, he finally purified photolyase and – in collaboration with his wife Gwen Sancar, PhD, and others – showed that the enzyme works as a blue-light-powered machine to repair ultraviolet light-induced DNA damage.

At UNC, Sancar continued his work on bacterial light-dependent photolyase and nucleotide excision repair, and worked out the mechanisms of both systems in exquisite detail in bacteria. By the time he earned his full professorship in 1988, he had begun working on nucleotide excision repair in humans. In 1992, he discovered that human nucleotide excision repair is very different from the bacterial system; the damage is removed by cutting out an 88-nanometer stretch of one strand of the double helix in human cells. In subsequent years, he demonstrated that the human excision repair system requires 15 proteins; E. Coli bacteria require only three. He also detailed how these proteins assemble during the repair.

This mechanism repairs the damage to human skin caused by sunlight every day. It is also the mechanism that cancer cells use to defend themselves against the DNA damage caused by the common cancer drug cisplatin. This work culminated in an excision repair map of the entire human genome, which his lab published in 2015.

In addition to this work, Sancar also discovered one of the four genes that control our biological clock. While investigating whether humans have photolyase, he found that humans do have a similar gene that encodes for a similar protein, but the human protein has no repair activity. He named it cryptochrome and showed that it is a vital component of the molecular clock that sets our daily rhythm. Most recently, he discovered how the four circadian clock proteins interact throughout the 24-hour cycle and what this means for treatment paradigms of various diseases, such as cancer.

Sancar, who co-founded the Aziz and Gwen Sancar Foundation in Chapel Hill in 2009, has received numerous honors and awards for his achievements:

• 1984, Presidential Young Investigator Award, National Science Foundation •1990, American Society for Photobiology Research Award • 1995, Associate Fellow, Third World Academy of Sciences • 1995, Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, Basic Science Award • 2004, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences • 2005, Member of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. • 2006, Member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences • 2007, Vehbi Koç Award from the Koç Foundation of Turkey • 2009, University of Texas at Dallas Distinguished Alumni Award • 2015, The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 • The Vallee Award in Biomedical Science, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Dr. Kenan Sahin is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of TIAX LLC, a leading collaborative product and technology development firm that accelerates innovation to help clients achieve growth and create an impact in the market—and in people’s lives. TIAX was formed in April 2002 from the Technology and Innovation business of Arthur D. Little, Inc. and continues to operate at Acorn Park in Cambridge, Mass., with over 50 laboratories and more than 200 engineers and scientists.

Dr. Sahin’s role as CEO of TIAX caps an already prolific career as academic, technologist and entrepreneur. Most recently, he was chosen by the World Economic Forum as one of its 40 Technology Pioneers for 2003 and received the New England Business and Technology's first “Circle of Excellence” award in 2004.

Dr. Sahin received his bachelor’s degree from MIT in 1963 and his Ph.D. from MIT in 1969 and then served on the faculties of MIT, Harvard and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst until 1985. During his distinguished academic career, he published articles in numerous professional publications. He also received several teaching awards and obtained U.S. and international patents.

In 1982, Dr. Sahin founded Kenan Systems with a $1,000 personal investment. The company went on to become a world leader in telecommunications software, employing more than 800 people and with offices in a dozen countries. Both Kenan Systems and Dr. Sahin received numerous awards, including the Ernst & Young New England Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998.

In early 1999, Kenan Systems merged into Lucent Technologies and Dr. Sahin became Vice President of Software Technology at Bell Labs and subsequently President of Lucent’s Software Products Group, serving in that position through 2000.

During his business career, Dr. Sahin has published numerous articles. Most recently he has addressed the innovation backlog in articles for R&D Magazine and Technology Review. He is also a frequent speaker on the topic of innovation, having recently appeared at the MIT Enterprise Forum, The Nantucket Conference on Innovation, and Brainstorm 2003, hosted by Fortune Magazine.

Dr. Sahin serves on numerous non-profit boards, including those of MIT, the Boston Museum of Science, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Symphony, and the American Field Service.

He is married to Andrea Sahin and they live in Boston.