English microbiologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2001, together with US geneticist Leland H Hartwell and UK microbiologist R Timothy Hunt, for his discovery of and related work on cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK), one of the key regulators of the cell cycle.
Nurse has carried out pioneering work that has directly contributed to knowledge of fundamental molecular mechanisms of cell growth. This work was based around the genetic and enzymatic control of the cell cycle in yeast, a micro-organism that he used as a model system for mammalian cells. Nurse showed that genes for protein kinases (a family of enzymes) were crucial in controlled cell growth. In particular he identified CDK as a key regulator that drives cells through the cell cycle by phosphorylation (a process that chemically bonds phosphate molecules to cellular proteins). He also demonstrated that CDK was conserved during the evolution of an organism.
Nurse's work is significant for cancer research as it contributes to the understanding of why cancer cells might undergo uncontrolled cell growth and how this might be prevented by new, highly specific drugs.
Nurse was born in Norwich, Norfolk, and studied biology at the University of Birmingham. He obtained his PhD from the University of East Anglia in 1973, before working in London, Sussex; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Bern, Switzerland. He held the position of Iveagh Professor of Microbiology at the University of Oxford from 1987 until 1991, when he became Napier Research Professor at the Royal Society. In 1993, he joined the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) as director of their research laboratories, and has been director general of the ICRF since 1996. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1989 and became a foreign associate of the US National Academy of Sciences in 1995. He was knighted in 1999.