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Sir Paul M. Nurse, PhD, FRS

The Rockefeller University
New York, New York

Titles and Affiliations

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

Research area

Understanding the regulation of genes that control breast tumor growth in order to develop new therapies.


Breast cancer is caused by genes becoming damaged, which leads to abnormal cell growth. Normally, human cells grow and multiply through a process called cell division to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes this orderly process breaks down, and abnormal or damaged cells grow and multiply when they should not. These cells may form tumors, which can become cancerous. Dr. Nurse is investigating the mechanisms by which cells control their overall growth and reproduction. Understanding how these processes work normally and in breast cancer is essential to inform new breast cancer therapies.

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Nurse is exploring the molecular details of the cell growth and reproduction cycle and the proteins that are involved in the process. In the last year, he and his team have identified over 200 proteins that become modified in the cell cycle to alter the cell cycle process. Interestingly, they found that relatively few regulators are critical to the cell cycle but act on many proteins. The team has also found novel drugs that target the cytoskeleton, which give cells their shape and is vital for the cell cycle to be completed correctly.

What’s next

In the coming year, Dr. Nurse will continue his investigations of the control and function mechanisms of the master regulators of the cell cycle to better understand breast cancer biology.


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.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Sir Elton John Award Endowed by Leonard A. Lauder

Areas of Focus

Tumor Biology