President Emeritus and Head of Laboratory
The Rockefeller University
New York, New York
The Royal Society, London
Dr. Nurse’s laboratory conducts basic discovery research into the genes and mechanisms important for breast cancer. His group is focused on understanding cell reproduction and growth, which go out of control in cancer, and cell shape which changes when cancer cells spread through the body. They are conducting several related research projects aimed at identifying genes relevant to these processes in the context of tumor growth and progression.
In one project, Dr. Nurse’s team is using genetically altered cells that are designed to be defective in a specific process. They then try to identify new chemicals which make those defects more severe, an experimental process called “synthetic lethal screen” that is used to identify genes that are critical in a particular cancer process. In a second project, Dr. Nurse’s team is studying a gene required for cell reproduction. This gene makes a protein that controls cell division and cell size; both are important aspects in tumor growth, as tumor cells double in number with each cell division, and cell division is triggered by cell size. A third project is looking at how the cell copies its DNA before cell division. If this does not happen properly, then damage to genes can occur which can result in cancer. Collectively these projects are helping us to understand key steps required for cells to properly reproduce themselves, a process which is crucially important for understanding cancer.
Paul Nurse, who shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was president of The Rockefeller University from 2003 to 2011.
Dr. Nurse is noted for discoveries about molecular mechanisms that regulate the cell cycle, the process by which a cell copies its genetic material and divides into two cells. His work, which is fundamental to understanding growth and development, is also vital to cancer research, because mistakes in the cell duplication process can contribute to the formation of tumors.
Dr. Nurse earned a PhD at the University of East Anglia. He joined the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) in 1984, and in 1988 moved to Oxford University to chair the Microbiology Department. Dr. Nurse returned to the ICRF as director of research in 1993, and in 1996 he was appointed director general. In 2002, he became CEO of Cancer Research UK, which he formed by merging ICRF with the Cancer Research Campaign. Today at Rockefeller, he is president emeritus and a professor heading the Laboratory of Yeast Genetics and Cell Biology.
Dr. Nurse also serves as president of the Royal Society and CEO of The Francis Crick Institute. He is a fellow of the Royal Society, a founding member of the U.K. Academy of Medical Sciences, and a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. In addition to the Nobel Prize, he has received numerous other awards and honors. Dr. Nurse was knighted in 1999, and in 2002 he was awarded France's Légion d’Honneur.