Prof. Lutz Gissmann

Vaccination against cancer: The HPV story

Besides the introduction of clean water and sanitation nothing has saved more lives than vaccination against infectious diseases. Modern vaccines are made of subunits of the infectious agent hence proved to be very safe. Low immunogenicity can be compensated by highly active modern adjuvants. Unfortunately people from countries with the highest burden of such preventable diseases have often limited access to vaccines due to economical and logistic reasons. Innovative immunization strategies, global support and political will may eventually improve this situation.

Vaccines against infection-related human cancer do exist and – as in the case of anti-Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) vaccination – proved to reduce the incidence of cancer related to this infection (hepatocellular carcinoma). Immunization against the high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPV) types 16 and 18 has been introduced 8 years ago. These viruses are responsible for about 70% of cancer of the uterine cervix, 30% of cases of the head and neck and the majority of penile, vulval and perianal cancer, altogether accounting for about half a million tumor cases every year.

First success, i.e. the prevention of precursors to some of these tumors has been reported in some countries. It is too early to observe an effect on the incidence of the respective cancers, since it takes at least 1-2 decades after HPV infection until they arise.

Prof. Gottfried Schatz

Gottfried (“Jeff”) Schatz, one of the world’s pioneering scientists in the field of mitochondrial biology and bioenergetics, has had a flourishing scientific career that started at the University of Graz where he obtained his PhD in 1961. He pursued postdoctoral research at the University of Vienna and at The Public Health Institute of New York city. After a brief return to Vienna, he accepted a professorship at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, which he held from 1968 to 1974. In 1974, he moved to Switzerland, joining the newly founded Biozentrum at the University of Basel as Professor and then as Chairman. He served as EMBO’s Secretary General, and, after his retirement, as president of Switzerland’s Science and Technology Council (SSTC).

Apart from playing a leading role in both elucidating mitochondrial biogenesis and in discovering mitochondrial DNA, Gottfried Schatz is also author of several books of science essays targeting general audiences as well as PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers across various disciplines. His unique and thought-provoking viewpoints on the broader implications of science in our society are not only cherished by scientists, but are also highly influential in science policy circles across the globe. Perhaps he is best known among young scientists for his essays ‘Jeff's View on Science and Scientists’ published in FEBS letters and later as a book (Elsevier 2005), as well as his public lectures and television appearances.

Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Basel, Schatz is a member of several prestigious scientific associations such as: The National Academy of Sciences of The U.S.A., The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Royal Swedish Academy as well as The Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. He has also received two honorary doctorates and numerous awards and honors including the Otto Warburg Medal, the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine, the Gairdner Award, the Antonio Feltrinelli International Prize, the E.B. Wilson Medal (The American Society for Cell Biology's highest honor for science), and the European Prize for Culture in Science. As a student and assistant professor, he also worked as a violinist at the Graz Philharmonic Orchestra and at several Austrian opera houses. He and his Danish wife have three children. Their son Peer M. Schatz is CEO of Qiagen, Europe’s largest biotech company.

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