Sir Paul Nurse heads the Laboratory of Yeast Genetics and Cell Biology and is the president of the Rockefeller University. His research focuses on the molecular machinery that drives the cell cycle and cell division.
Born in 1949 in Norwich, Great Britain, he graduated from Birmingham University and in 1973 received the Ph.D. in cell biology/biochemistry from the University of East Anglia. After completing postdoctoral studies in Switzerland, Scotland, and Great Britain, Nurse joined the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) in 1984 where he headed the cell cycle control laboratory. In 1988, he joined the University of Oxford to chair its department of microbiology. Five years later, he returned to ICRF as its Director of Research and later as Director General. In 2002, he was appointed Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK where he directed programs and support staff.
Nurse shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Leland Hartwell and Tim Hunt for advancements in understanding of the cell cycle. This process is crucial to survival and mistakes can lead to tumors and cancers, and their research was hailed by the Nobel Foundation as revealing “new possibilities for cancer treatment.” Among Nurse’s extraordinary research accomplishments was the identification of a key regulator of the cell cycle in both yeast and human cells, CDK (cyclin dependent kinase). Scientists subsequently have identified half a dozen different CDK molecules in human cells and have found that higher than normal levels of CDK molecules characterize some human tumors such as breast cancer.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Nurse has received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, General Motors Cancer Research Foundation Alfred P. Sloan Jr. Prize & Medal, Royal Society Wellcome and Royal Medals (U.K.), Pezcoller Award (Italy), Rosenstiel Award and Medal, Heineken Prize (Netherlands), Jimenez Diaz Medal (Spain), Jeantet Prize (Switzerland) and the Gairdner Foundation International Award (Canada).
A fellow of the Royal Society, Nurse is a member of the Council for Science and Technology, which advises the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Great Britain, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), the Academia Europaea, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (foreign associate), and is a founding member of the U.K. Academy of Medical Sciences. He was honored with knighthood in Great Britain in 1999 with the Legion d’Honneur (France) in 2002.
Nurse is an avid motorcyclist and glider and power pilot, with strong personal interests in astronomy, bird watching and natural history.