The cell cycle: the foundation of cancer
About Paul Nurse
Sir Paul Nurse is a pioneering scientist studying the cell cycle – the way that cells copy themselves. He heads the Cell Cycle Laboratory at our London Research Institute, and was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2001 for his groundbreaking work in this field. Today his research continues to shape our knowledge of how cells divide, the fundamental process at the heart of cancer.
Cells divide millions of times every minute in your body. New cells are constantly needed to repair damage, replace worn-out cells, and drive growth. But the process also needs to be tightly controlled.
Cancer can start when this control breaks down, allowing cells to divide too fast and grow into a tumour. Understanding how healthy cells divide - and how the process can go wrong - is the foundation on which efforts to beat cancer are built.
In the 1980s Dr Nurse discovered a gene called cdc2 that plays a key role in controlling the cell cycle. This breakthrough was made using yeast cells, but Dr Nurse’s team went on to identify the gene’s counterpart in human cells, showing that these two very different organisms control their cell cycles in the same way.
This work, along with that of Tim Hunt and Leland Hartwell, led to a Nobel Prize in 2001. And cancer drugs that block specific molecules involved in the cell cycle are now being tested in clinical trials.
From 1996 until 2002, Dr Nurse was Director-General of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. He played a major role in its merger with the Cancer Research Campaign to form Cancer Research UK in 2002. He then became Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK until 2003.
Searching for new genes
Dr Nurse continues to study cell division in yeast, searching for new genes that are involved in the cell cycle. He collaborates with experts around the world to understand this complex and fundamental process, and his research is paving the way for new approaches to tackling cancer in the future.
Dr Nurse is also president of New York's Rockefeller University and has been elected the next president of the Royal Society. In 2011 he will become the first director and chief executive of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI), a pioneering biomedical research institute planned for central London.
Other research projects by Paul Nurse
Fission Yeast Cells Undergo Nuclear Division in the Absence of Spindle Microtubules
PLoS Biol.2010;8 :e1000512
Analysis of a genome-wide set of gene deletions in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe
Nat Biotechnol.2010;28 :617-623