Dirk Tourwé obtained the PhD degree at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in 1974, under the supervision of Prof. Georges Van Binst. The topic was the synthesis of benzo- and indoloquinolizidine alkaloid analogs. In these years, 13C NMR was a novel technique that was under development for stereostructure determination. Its application to the quinolizidine analogs allowed D. Tourwé to obtain the Habilitation in 1979. He then shifted his research interest towards peptides. As assistant professor, he visited the lab of Prof. Victor Hruby at Arizona University and he became interested in the synthesis and application of conformational constraints in peptides as a tool for metabolic stabilization and inducing receptor selectivity in modified peptides. A major application involved the opioid peptides, for which he collaborated with Prof. Peter Schiller at the IRCM in Montreal, Dr. Andrzej Lipkowski at the Mossakowski Institute in Warsaw and Dr. Geza Tóth and Prof. Antal Péter in Szeged. He became Dr. Honoris Causa at the University of Szeged in 2003. In addition, an important part of his research was the development of radiolabeled stable neurotensin analogs for PET and SPECT, which was mainly performed in collaboration with the group of A. Schubiger at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switserland. D. Tourwé was visiting professor at the Université Claude Bernard I (Lyon), the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris), the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.
In 2012, D. Tourwé became professor emeritus the the VUB.