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 cancer growth in order to develop new therapies.

Impact

Breast cancer is caused by genes becoming damaged, which leads to cells reproducing out of control. 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 shouldn’t. 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’s work is in two areas: exploring new drugs that target cancer cells to prevent tumor formation and in studying the genes that enable cancer cells to grow out of control. Dr. Nurse’s team sought to identify and characterize new drugs that affect the very fundamental processes of the cell growth cycle and cell shape, which is critical to their behavior and function. He has identified 11 novel drugs that interfere with these processes. Of these, he and his team determined the most potent drug that kills only breast cancer cells while leaving normal cells intact and also tested combinations of drugs that can work synergistically to improve effectiveness without being too toxic. Dr. Nurse and his team also identified master regulatory genes of cell growth and cell reproduction that could potentially be exploited for therapeutic purposes.

What's next

In the coming year, Dr. Nurse will continue characterizing drugs that affect cell division. He and his team will continue to analyze the changes that occur in the cell in response to cell growth regulation, which may reveal molecular mechanisms underlying the process. They will also continue to monitor cell cycle regulators to better understand how that process works and how it is connected to regulating cell size.

“If not for BCRF, my laboratory would not be able to pursue novel and unusual ways to better understand and treat breast cancer. Most other funding agencies do not allow such freedoms of approach, which are needed for real innovative advances.”- Dr. Nurse

Biography

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

2005

Donor Recognition

The Sir Elton John Award Endowed by Leonard A. Lauder

Areas of Focus