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Sir Paul M. Nurse, PhD, FRS

President Emeritus, The Rockefeller University
New York, New York
Director and CEO, The Francis Crick Institute
London, United Kingdom

Current Research

Goal: To gain novel insights into how breast cancer forms in order to develop new drugs to treat it.

Impact: Dr. Nurse is investigating how certain genes that control the growth and spread of cells become damaged, causing uncontrolled cell growth. Mistakes made during cell division can contribute to the formation of tumors and identifying the genes that regulate this process can lead to novel discoveries to benefit patients.

What’s next: He and his colleagues will continue to investigate how cellular growth is regulated and study potential drugs that alter cell shape (a change that allows breast cancer cells to spread throughout the body).

Breast cancer arises when genes become damaged and cells reproduce uncontrollably. To develop new therapies for the disease, it is essential to understand how the genes that control the reproduction and growth of normal breast cells operate and what goes wrong during cancer formation and development. Dr. Nurse is investigating this process and looking for drugs that may interfere with or block the damage responsible for uncontrolled cell growth.

Full Research Summary

Research area: Understanding how genes alter cell shape and cause cells to reproduce uncontrollably so that new cancer therapies can be developed.

Impact: Breast cancer is caused when genes become damaged leading to uncontrollable cell division. Understanding how genes control these processes is critical for discovery of new therapies for cancer treatment. Dr. Nurse and his colleagues have been investigating how the genes that control the proper formation of the cell skeleton work. They are using this information to identify new drugs that may be able to target these genes with the goal of developing novel therapies for breast cancer.

Current research: Dr. Nurse and his team have isolated a class of drugs that disrupt the skeleton of breast cancer cells, which are important for tumor growth and spread. They are conducting studies to explore the utility of these drugs in the treatment of breast cancer.

What he’s learned so far: His team has characterized two classes of drugs: one that stops proper formation of the cell skeleton thereby blocking cell reproduction and inducing cells to die; and one that disturbs cell shape and influences the spread of cells. They have specifically investigated the master regulator of this system, cyclin dependent kinase (CDK), and have shown that CDK levels gradually increase as cells grow.

What’s next: Dr. Nurse and his colleagues will continue to examine the mechanism of action of CDK to determine how it is controlled and how it determines progress through the process of cell reproduction.


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 served as president of the Royal Society and is currently director 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.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Nurse P

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Sir Elton John Award Endowed by Leonard A. Lauder

Area(s) of Focus