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Cancer Prevention Research at DKFZ

Since its foundation, cancer prevention has been one of the main focuses of the DKFZ.

An outstanding example is the development of the vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV), for which Prof. Harald zur Hausen was awarded with the Nobel Prize.

The translational research strategy of the National Cancer Prevention Center starts with basic research and spans population-based research in partnership with healthy individuals and patients to implementation and population-based outcome research of new, evidence-based prevention methods. The National Cancer Prevention Center will work with a wide variety of partner institutions to implement large-scale study designs and quality-assessed programs as broadly and sustainably as possible. Experts will, on the one hand, develop evidence-based programs for prevention that are adjusted to the personal cancer risk and, on the other hand, design campaigns based on the latest, scientifically proven findings in order to spread awareness of prevention nationwide. The National Cancer Prevention Center will also make evidence-based services available to a wide range of stakeholders (including family and company physicians) to allow citizens rapid access to modern prevention measures.

Based on the tumor boards of the Comprehensive Cancer Centers, so-called interdisciplinary cancer prevention boards will be established in the sense of a Comprehensive Cancer Prevention Center, bringing together basic researchers, applied prevention researchers, prevention physicians, policy specialists and epidemiologists. The tasks of the Cancer Prevention Boards are, for example, the exchange new discoveries, e.g. on tumorigenesis, and their discussion with regard to developing innovative early detection and intervention measures. The Cancer Prevention Boards will thus build an important translational bridge between basic research and applied citizen-oriented prevention research.

DKFZ researchers are currently active in many areas of cancer prevention and prevention research, i.e. by:

  • determining the influence of preventable risk factors on the development of cancer,
  • examining how diet is associated with increased cancer risks in large population-based studies,
  • exploring which healthy lifestyle factors can reduce cancer risk,
  • providing evidence-based recommendations for maintaining health, such as proper UV protection and a healthy diet,
  • exploring how sport and physical activity can reduce cancer risk and improve the effectiveness of cancer therapies and studying the effects of regular physical activity on the quality of life and long-term survival of cancer patients,
  • addressing the question of how vitamin D supply affects cancer mortality,
  • determining the influence of alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity/adipositas on cancer risk and cancer mortality,
  • promoting measures to reduce tobacco consumption and building awareness of the health risks associated with tobacco consumption and nicotine products,
  • exploring the impact of hormone replacement therapy on cancer risk,
  • investigating how chronic inflammatory reactions promote cancer and what can be done to prevent this.
  • developing vaccines against carcinogenic viruses such as human papilloma viruses (HPV) or hepatitis viruses and promoting the further development of already approved vaccines for easier availability in partner countries,
  • searching for as yet unknown carcinogens and developing measures to protect people from infection with these pathogens,
  • exploring preventive vaccination in Lynch syndrome to protect against hereditary colorectal cancer.
  • developing measures to improve colorectal cancer screening and motivating more people to participate in screening tests,
  • identifying genetic risk markers to better assess hereditary cancer risks and to initiate tightly-meshed early detection measures,
  • looking for biomarkers such as miRNA or genetic variants that point to cancer as early as possible, so that there is a good chance of treating the disease.

Further detailed information on the individual research areas at the DKFZ can be found on the pages of the DKFZ research program .

Award-winning research

Prof. Dr. Harald zur Hausen received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2008 for his discovery that human papillomaviruses cause cervical cancer. His research on human papillomaviruses enabled the development of a preventive vaccine against HPV that protects primarily against cervical cancer.

Prof. Dr. Bartenschlager received numerous awards for his pioneering discoveries on molecular properties and the replication cycle of hepatitis C viruses: Robert Koch Award 2015, Lasker-DeBakey Award-2016, Hector Science Award 2017, Prince Mahidol Award 2020, Beijerick Virology Award 2021. With his pioneering research, he set the ground for the development of targeted antiviral medication. Chronic infection with hepatitis C viruses can lead to liver cirrhosis and ultimately liver cancer in the long term.

Prof. Dr. Hermann Brenner has received several awards for his research in several large studies on the efficiency of colorectal cancer screening and the improvement of colorectal cancer prevention: the Felix Burda Award in 2006, 2010 and 2013, as well as the Colorectal Cancer Prevention Award of the German Cancer Society, the LebensBlicke Foundation and the German Cancer Foundation. In 2010, Prof. Dr. Brenner was awarded the Thannhauser Medal for his special services and the further development of his field. Most recently, he received the inaugural German Prize for Cancer Prevention Research in 2021.

Prof. Dr. Karen Steindorf received the Quality of Life Award of the Lilly Foundation and the Claudia von Schilling Award in 2015 for her scientific work on physical activity during breast cancer therapy. She continues to develop exercise programs so that cancer patients can derive maximum benefit.

PD Dr. Michael Hoffmeister and Dr. Prudence Carr received the 2021 Colorectal Cancer Prevention Award from the LebensBlicke Foundation for their work in colorectal cancer screening and early detection.

Dr. Nina Papavasiliou received the inaugural DKFZ Innovation Award in 2021 for the development of an immunization system that can be used to generate protective, so-called neutralizing antibodies against virtually any foreign molecule. Their method has the potential to develop immunizations against small chemical molecules that could trigger cancer.

The 2018 Erwin Schrödinger Prize went to an interdisciplinary team of researchers at DKFZ. The scientists Prof. Dr. Matthias Eder, Prof. Dr. Michael Eisenhut, Prof. Dr. Uwe Haberkorn and Prof. Dr. Klaus Kopka developed a method for improved early prostate cancer detection.

Dr. Bernard Srour received a prestigious Bettencourt Prize for Young Investigators in 2020 for his studies on biomarkers of metabolism in the EPIC study.

Dr. Christian Stock received the Endoscopy Research Award in 2011 for his scientific contribution to the importance of colorectal cancer screening programs and, together with Prof. Dr. Hermann Brenner and Dr. Michael Hoffmeister, the Felix Burda Award in 2013 for their commitment to colorectal cancer prevention.

PD Dr. Sebastian Bickelhaupt and Dr. Paul Jäger received the Richtzenhain Award of the Walther and Christine Richtzenhain Foundation in 2020 for improved breast cancer diagnostics using diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging.

Dr. Julia Butt was awarded the 2018 Nicola Werner Young Investigator Award for research on the cancer-causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori.

Dr. Daniel Hasche received the Nicola Werner Young Investigator Award 2017 for research on the relationship between HPV and white skin cancer.


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