Sir Paul M. Nurse, MD, PhD

Paul Nurse is a British biochemist. He was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Leland H. Hartwell and R. Timothy Hunt for their discoveries regarding cell cycle regulation by cyclin and cyclin dependent kinases.

Sir Paul M. Nurse receiving his Nobel Prize from His Majesty the King at the Stockholm Concert Hall.
Copyright © Nobel Web AB 2001
Photo: Hans Mehlin

Nurse’s parents came from Norfolk. He was born and raised in Wembley, in north-west London. and was educated at Harrow County Grammar School for Boys. He received his undergraduate degree in 1970 from the University of Birmingham and his PhD in 1973 from the University of East Anglia. Beginning in 1976, Nurse identified the gene cdc2 in yeast (Schizosaccharomyces pombe). This gene controls the progression of the cell cycle from G1 phase to S phase and the transition from G2 phase to mitosis. In 1987, Nurse identified the homologous gene in human, CDK1, which codes for a cyclin dependent kinase.

In 1984, Nurse joined the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. (ICRF, now named the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute. He left in 1988 to chair the department of microbiology at the University of Oxford. He then returned to the ICRF as Director of Research in 1993, and in 1996 was named Director General of the ICRF, which became the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute in 2002. In 2003, he became president of Rockefeller University in New York City where he continues to work on the cell cycle of fission yeast.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Nurse has received numerous awards and honours. In 1989, he became a fellow of the Royal Society and in 1995 he received a Royal Medal and became a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1998. Nurse was knighted in 1999. He was awarded the French Legion d’Honneur in 2002. He was also awarded the Copley Medal in 2005. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences one of the top honours in April 2006.
Sir Paul Nurse, president of The Rockefeller University, is a Trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is one of 11 Trustees of the Institute, a medical research organization dedicated to the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge in the life sciences.

Nurse, 56, is a distinguished scientist who shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Leland Hartwell and R. Timothy Hunt for fundamental discoveries concerning control of the cell cycle. A geneticist who uses fission yeast as a model system, he continues an active research program that focuses on the cell cycle and how the cell organizes its internal structures to prepare for cell division.

A native of England, Nurse became Rockefeller’s ninth president in 2003. He had been chief executive of Cancer Research UK, the world’s largest cancer research organization outside the U.S.

Nurse graduated from the University of Birmingham in 1970 and received his Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia in 1973. Nurse headed laboratories at the University of Sussex, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), and Oxford University before rejoining the ICRF in 1996 as its Director General. He presided over its merger with the Cancer Research Council.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Nurse’s work has been recognized around the world. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and, in 1995, became a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences. He has received the Gairdner Foundation International Award (1992), the Alfred P. Sloan Jr. Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation (1997), and the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research (1998).


The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is dedicated to discovering and disseminating new knowledge in the basic life sciences. HHMI grounds its research programs on the conviction that scientists of exceptional talent and imagination will make fundamental contributions of lasting scientific value and benefit to humanity when given the resources, time, and freedom to pursue challenging questions. The Institute prizes intellectual daring and seeks to preserve the autonomy of its scientists as they pursue their research.

A nonprofit medical research organization, HHMI was established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist. The Institute, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is one of the largest philanthropies in the world with an endowment of $14.8 billion at the close of its 2005 fiscal year. HHMI invested $637 million in support of biomedical research and $80 million for support of a variety of science education and other grants programs in fiscal 2005.

The Rockefeller University is a world-renowned center for research and graduate education in the biomedical sciences, chemistry, and physics. Founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1901, the university has been the site of many important scientific breakthroughs. Rockefeller scientists, for example, established that DNA is the chemical basis of heredity, discovered blood groups, showed that viruses can cause cancer, founded the modern field of cell biology, worked out the structure of antibodies, developed methadone maintenance for people addicted to heroin, devised the AIDS “cocktail” drug therapy, and identified the weight-regulating hormone leptin. Twenty-three Nobel Prize winners have been associated with the university.