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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
British scientists scoop Nobel
Cervical cancer cell division BBC
A cervical cancer cell on the point of division
Two British scientists and an American have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for their discoveries about the way cells work.

Their pioneering work may eventually lead to new treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Sir Paul Nurse, the director general of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, and Dr Tim Hunt, from the charity's Cell Cycle Control Laboratory, won the prize jointly with US expert Professor Lee Hartwell.

This year's Nobel laureates have made seminal discoveries at the molecular level

Nobel prize citation
All three have spent years unravelling the way in which cells divide, with the hope of working out a way to understand and halt the uncontrolled growth which characterises cancer growth.

It is the first time that British scientists have won the prize since 1993.

Professor Hartwell, from the University of Washington, in Seattle, started laying the groundwork three decades ago with experiments using yeast cells.

He discovered a gene which played a key part in the cell multiplication process.

The citation for the prize said that the trio had opened up "new possibilities for cancer treatment".

Cell cycle

Nurse and Hunt both made discoveries relating to genes and body chemicals in humans which have a major role in the natural "cycle" of a cell's life and reproduction.

A successful cell cycle is needed for the transfer of undamaged genetic material from one generation of cells to the next.

Nurse BBC
Sir Paul Nurse: Joint winner
Failure to do this properly may be a factor in the development of cancer cells - and the genes identified may point the way to treatments in future.

"This year's Nobel laureates have made seminal discoveries at the molecular level of how the cell is driven from one phase to the next in the cell cycle," said the citation.

"Most biomedical research areas will benefit from these basic discoveries, which may result in broad applications within many different fields."

Dr Hunt said: "I am over the moon to win this award, which is a tribute to the work of my whole team at Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

"Both mine and Paul's research has opened up a new chapter in cancer research and it's fantastic that this has been recognised in this way."

World battle

Sir Paul added: "Imperial Cancer Research Fund took me on 15 years ago as a young scientist with a mission to understand the biology of cancer. It has supported and funded my work for two decades and I'm profoundly grateful that it has."

The prize is worth 10 million kronor, or approximately 640,000 pounds.

Sir Paul is well-known for his outspoken views on the future of cancer research and care in the UK. He is a strong advocate of action to make cancer drugs more widely available in developing countries, warning that in less than 20 years 10m people a year will die from the disease.

The Director General of the Cancer Research Campaign, Professor Gordon McVie, congratulated all three winners, adding: "Implications for cancer treatments and cures have now featured in seven of the last thirteen awards, which demonstrates that the best brains are focused on a disease which is fast becoming the scourge of the world."

See also:

08 Oct 01 | Health
What did Nobel winners do?
09 Oct 00 | Health
Brain pioneers share Nobel prize
27 Jun 01 | Health
'Cancer battle must go global'
27 Jul 00 | Health
MPs call for cancer institute
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