Sir Paul M. Nurse, Honorary Degree Recipient

Sir Paul M. Nurse (left).

Doctor of Science

Sir Paul Maxime Nurse won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Medicine, along with Leland H. Hartwell and R.Timothy Hunt, for their discoveries regarding cell cycle regulation by chemicals called cyclin and cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs). In 1976, Nurse identified the gene in yeast that controls a cell’s progression through different phases of its reproductive cycle; in 1987, he identified the equivalent gene in human cells, which codes for a CDK. These breakthroughs are important for science’s understanding of human growth and development of cancer, and for demonstrating the universal nature of the mechanism of cell division, be it in simple or complex organisms.

Having grown up in London with a lifelong interest in science and nature, Nurse worked in a microbiological lab associated with the local Guinness brewery before earning his undergraduate degree on a scholarship at the University of Birmingham and then a Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia. After postdoctorate work in various countries, he joined the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) in 1984. He left in 1988 to chair the department of microbiology at Oxford, then returned to the ICRF in 1993 as director of research and, later, Director General. (The ICRF is now known as Cancer Research UK.) In 2003, Nurse became president of Rockefeller University in New York City, where he continues his research on the cell cycle of yeast.

Nurse is a fellow of the Royal Society, a recipient of the society’s Royal Medal, a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1998 and was knighted the following year. He was awarded the French Légion d’honneur in 2002 and the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 2005.

Nurse has written of his view of science as “a liberalising and progressive force for humanity,”“a truly international activity which breaks down barriers between the peoples of the world” and “a profoundly aesthetic experience which gives pleasure not unlike the reading of a great poem.”