British Nobel Prize Laureate in Prague

Prof. Paul Nurse

By Nicole Klement

And staying on an academic theme, on Thursday afternoon one the world's most respected scientists, Nobel Laureate Prof. Paul Nurse was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Charles University here in Prague. The ceremony was held in the Great Hall of the Carolinum, the historic heart of the university, where Prof Nurse, Director-General of Britain's Imperial Cancer Research Fund, was honoured for his contribution to science.

In the 1970s and 80s Dr. Nurse's research centred around the genetic and biochemical study of a certain strain of yeast and using this model he contributed to a revolutionary discovery in cell biology- how cells make the decision to grow and divide.

His laboratory soon after identified the human version of a protein called Cyclin Dependant Kinase which plays an important role in the development of cancer.

This week's honorary doctorate in Prague is the latest in a string of awards. Last year he was given a knighthood and he has also just received the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. He told journalists that the Prague award had a special significance.

"I've been visiting the Czech Republic for twenty years with the scientific contacts at times when it was not very easy to do that. I also sit on a committee which is trying to restore the monastery in Brno where Gregor Mendel carried out his extremely important experiments in genetics. Indeed I received the message that I had been awarded the Nobel Prize by telephone when I was sitting on this committee in London with Jim Watson, who discovered the structure of DNA. So, I feel I have very strong connections with the Czech Republic and I hope to continue those in the future".

Given that Professor Nurse's work is in the field of cancer research, specifically how the cell cycle affects the development of cancer, we asked him about how his work may reveal a future treatment for cancer.

"We are formed as a consequence of many millions of cell divisions. But, when this process goes wrong then cell division occurs at the wrong time and the wrong place in the body and this leads to cancer. So, the whole process of cell division and its control is central to the understanding of cancer."

It is well known that incidence of certain types of cancer is higher in some nations than in others. For example, stomach cancer is common in China, while breast cancer is far more widespread in the western world. This subject has particularly interested Prof Nurse:

"This probably means that there are some environmental differences in these different countries. Which are influencing cancer incidence. And an important area of research is to identify the environmental and lifestyle differences and try to relate these differences to the incidence of disease. One reason this is so complex is because not only do the environments differ but also the genetic make-up of people living in these different countries."

Prof Nurse has been working with Czech Scientists for many years. So the question arises, why is the Czech Republic not at the forefront of cancer research.

"The Czech Republic has a proud heritage of education and research. What it needs to learn is that it needs to invest money into its universities, its education and its research systems and then I think it will do well."

Another appeal there for more money to be pumped into Czech universities, this time from British Nobel Prize Laureate, Paul Nurse.

Author: Nicole Klement
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