In the news: Paul Nurse

October 12, 2001

On Tuesday, Sir Paul Nurse received the phone call that all scientists dream of. The 52-year-old pioneer of cell biology had won the Nobel prize for medicine.

It is deserved recognition for the man responsible for revealing a key gene responsible for driving the cell cycle - the process by which cells constantly divide and duplicate their chromosomes into daughter cells.

Problems with this basic biological function have subsequently proved an important focus for research towards new therapies for cancer. Appropriately, Sir Paul is now director general of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

He shares his prize with Tim Hunt, another researcher at the ICRF's Hertfordshire laboratories, and Leland Hartwell, director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, United States.

Professor Hartwell's insights into the cell cycle led to Sir Paul's discovery of its genetic engine. Dr Hunt's independent work slotted in the next piece of the puzzle by isolating the proteins that regulate the gene like a gearbox.

Three years ago, Sir Paul's efforts won him the prestigious Lasker award, and he was knighted in June 2000.

He has used his high-profile position to speak out on behalf of his fellow scientists, attacking Margaret Thatcher and the damage caused by her government's research policies immediately after the prize was announced.

Before this year's general election, he signed a letter with other leading scientists to voice his support for Labour's science policy. Then he publicly criticised the government for dropping a bill to ban tobacco advertising.

So will he use his £215,000 prize money to further research? Actually, he has other plans. "I know it's the male menopause, but I do have my eye on a motorbike," he said this week.

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