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Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded - 2001-10-08

Three pioneers in cancer cell research have been awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Hans Jornvall, Secretary of the Swedish Nobel Assembly, announced the winners: Leland Hartwell, a professor of genetics at the University of Washington in Seattle; and R. Timothy Hunt and Paul Nurse of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London. The three will share a prize of nearly $1 million.

The three were singled out for breakthroughs in understanding how adult human cells divide and regulate themselves.

A statement issued by the Nobel Assembly says the understanding of what is known as "the cell cycle" may open new long-term possibilities for the treatment of breast cancer, brain tumors, and other cancer research.

Professor Hartwell, who is also director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research center in Seattle, was cited for his discovery in the 1960s of the specific class of genes that control the cell cycle.

Timothy Hunt, following Professor Hartwell's approach, was credited with the discovery of cyclin, the first molecular mechanism that regulates the cell cycle.

Paul Nurse was credited with identifying, isolating and cloning a gene called CDK-1, a molecule that has proven to be an important key regulator of the cell cycle.

The Nobel Academy, in explaining the significance of the research, likened the CDK molecules to an engine, and said cyclins were like a gear box that controls whether the engine will operate at idle or would drive the cell forward in the cell cycle.

The three winners will split nearly $1 million in cash, which will be presented along with gold medals and diplomas at ceremonies in Stockholm December 10. That is the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who established the prizes in his will.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Nobel prizes, and special ceremonies are planned in Stockholm, as well in Oslo, Norway, where the Nobel peace prize is to be awarded later in the week.