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Nobel Prize winners 'in shock'

LONDON, England -- The winners of the Nobel Prize for medicine said they were "bowled over" by their award for ground-breaking new cancer research.

British scientists R.Timothy Hunt and Paul M. Nurse, who won the prize with American researcher Leland H. Hartwell, added that they were still reeling from shock and disbelief at a hastily arranged press conference in the UK.

"I'm not sure we really believe it but it's on the (Nobel) web site now," Hunt told Reuters news agency, the first of the pair to hear about the honour.

Nurse heard the news after he was pulled out of a meeting and told to turn on his mobile phone.

The 50 professors of Stockholm's Karolinska Institute, which makes up the Nobel Assembly that votes for the winner of the physiology or medicine award, announced the $1 million prize on Monday.

When asked what they would do with the prize money, 58-year-old Hunt said he would pay off the mortgage but Nurse, six years his junior, had something else in mind.

"I know it's the male menopause -- but I do have my eye on a motorbike," he told Reuters.

The team's research will improve understanding of the way cancer cells develop and new approaches to tackling it, the Assembly told The Associated Press news agency.

The award-winning team made crucial breakthroughs in understanding how cells control their division, which replicate as the human body grows. Cancer develops when some cells start to divide in an abnormal way.

"We knew there was something in cells that made them divide," said Hunt, a biochemist.

Using yeast cells, Nurse identified a gene that controls the cell division. "That was the eureka moment," the scientist told Reuters.

Close secret

Hunt and Nurse both work at the UK's Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London.

Hartwell, born in 1939, works at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, Washington.

The announcement of the prize for medicine begins a week of widely anticipated awards culminating with the Nobel Peace Prize -- the most prestigious award -- on Friday.

This year's awards mark the 100-year anniversary of the first ever Nobel prizes, funded by the late Swedish industrialist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel.

According to his will, the medicine or physiology award was "to go to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine."

The first ever medicine prize was given to German scientist Emil Adolf von Behring for his discovery of a diphtheria vaccination.

Last year's winners were Arvid Carlsson of Sweden and Americans Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel for research on how brain cells transmit signals to each other.

Traditionally, the announcements are always kept closely guarded secrets. The winners are chosen from nominations received from professors, past laureates and other specialists from around the world.

The physics prize is to be announced on Tuesday, the prizes in chemistry and economics on Wednesday, and the peace prize on Friday.

To mark the centennial this year, all living laureates have been invited to the ceremonies and related seminars.

About 150 guests are expected in Stockholm and 30 in Oslo, including the former South African President Nelson Mandela and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The prizes are to be awarded on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896, where the winners will receive gold medals, diplomas and cheques.


• Nobel Prizes online

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