Interview: Nobel Prize-winning scientist celebrates with Highgate neighbours

Dr Tomas Lindahl has won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Picture: The Francis Crick Institute

Dr Tomas Lindahl has won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Picture: The Francis Crick Institute - Credit: Archant

A scientist celebrated with his Highgate neighbours after winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for pioneering research on DNA repair in cells.

Dr Tomas Lindahl, 77, was awarded the £633,000 prize last Wednesday alongside two other scientists for work on DNA repair which has led to the development of new cancer treatments.

He has lived in Highgate Village for 35 years, and can often be spotted in his local high street visiting Highgate Butchers or Brooksby newsagents.

Swedish-born Dr Lindahl, who is a member of the Highgate Society, said: “When I told my neighbours, they were very pleased on my behalf. We had drinks together with my neighbours on both sides. I feel very much living in Highgate that there’s a wonderful community.”

Retired Dr Lindahl is emeritus group leader at the King’s Cross-based Francis Crick Institute and emeritus director of Cancer Research UL at Clare Hall Laboratory in Hertfordshire.

He and his fellow laureates Paul Modrick, of the US, and Aziz Sancar, of Turkey, are said to have transformed our understanding of the way potential cancers are prevented by cellular mechanisms which repair damaged DNA. It has led to the development of cancer treatments that can target the disease’s weak spots in the area of DNA repair.

Dr Lindahl said: “It’s very important to understand how cells defend themselves against DNA damage, that’s the key to killing bone cancers, developing new medicines and expanding our knowledge of radiobiology.”

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He added: It’s very gratifying to know you are saving a life. You only have one life.”

As well as having a drink with his neighbours, Dr Lindahl celebrated by opening a fine bottle of Bordeaux wine, which he shared with his brother.

Dr Lindahl said of winning the Nobel Prize: “It’s not something you expect but you always hope for something like that. I was very pleased to be recognised by my colleagues in that way.”

When he is not conducting pioneering research, he enjoys attending concerts both at local venues and at central London halls.

“I make an effort to support the local trade as much as I can and to be a member of the community,” Dr Lindahl said. “Highgate is a great place to live. It wasn’t quite as fashionable when I moved here 35 years ago but I wouldn’t want to have lived anywhere else.”

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “I’m absolutely delighted for Tomas, one of our most brilliant scientists and leaders.

“Thanks to his vision and creative genius, he was one of the first scientists to spot the process of DNA repair - something we now know plays a fundamental role in the development of cancer.

“His work led to a deeper understanding of why the disease develops and, crucially for patients, treatments that target cancer’s weak spots in DNA repair.”

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the laureates’ work “has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions”.