Sir Richard Timothy Hunt

The Nobel lecture – Sir Tim Hunt

“Stumbling on the secret of cell division…”


Sir Richard Timothy Hunt graduated in 1964 and later received his PhD from University of Cambridge in 1968. He conducted research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, then later taught at Cambridge (1981–90) and in 1991 became principal scientist at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now Cancer Research UK).

Sir Tim hunt was awarded The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2001 jointly shared with Leland H. Hartwell and Sir Paul M. Nurse “for their discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle”.His research centered on the chain of events that a cell undergoes from one division to another- known as the cell cycle, the process includes growth, DNA duplication, and division. Concentrating on cyclins, the proteins that form and break down during the cell cycle, he was able to isolate the first cyclin in 1982 using sea urchins. He discovered that cyclin binds to the cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) molecules, functioning as a biochemical-enabling agent to activate the CDKs (key enzymes involved in many cell functions). His groundbreaking discovery aided in the understanding of cancer-cell development.

Awards and Honors:

  • European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) Member (1978)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society (1991)
  • Abraham White Scientific Achievement Award of the George Washington University  (1993)
  • Foreign Honorable Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Fellow of the Academy of Medical sciences (FMedSci) (1998)
  • Foreign associate of the US National Academy of Sciences (1999)
  • Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine (2001)
  • Appointed Officier Legion d’Honneur (2002)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (HonFRSE) (2003)
  • Royal Society’s Royal Medal (2006)
  • Knight Bachelor (2006)

A few words with by Tim Hunt: 

“I grew up in Oxford wanting to be a scientist, loving gadgets and processes like melting lead pipes, or electrolyzing salt solutions to make poisonous and explosive gases. Luckily, I had excellent teachers who channeled these enthusiasms into a deeper and more formal understanding of chemistry and biology (physics, alas, was beyond my grasp) so that it was possible to study at Cambridge University and carry on there with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, on the business of the control of haemoglobin synthesis. I’ll explain how I arrived at this—it was an accident—and also where I pursued the subject. It took ten years, many interesting side roads, a lot of travel and a devastating fire to solve the problem of how the synthesis of haem was coordinated with the synthesis of globin. After that, it took another 7 years or so to find a really good new problem to work on, but on July 22nd 1982 I was teaching and researching at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, and saw to my amazement that a prominent protein, later called cyclin, disappeared just before fertilized sea urchin eggs divided for the first (and every subsequent) time they divided. Finding out what this protein was, and what it did, took another six or seven years of very exciting work, leading away from the control of protein synthesis to the control of cell division. Yet amazingly, the underlying mechanisms were identical, involving protein kinases, which attach phosphate residues onto other proteins, thereby modifying their behavior. I’ve always liked biological switches and finding how they work. Most recently, however, I’ve been drawn to the study of the enzymes that remove phosphates from proteins and their control, which turn out to be very important in the switches that initiate and terminate cell division. The path was marked by unexpected discoveries all along the way, almost always stemming from sensible experiments designed to test something different!”

Be ready for anonce-in-a-lifetime inspiring lecture by an outstanding biologist who has contributed immeasurably to our knowledge of most aspects of cell biology at ICMS 2018!


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