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Mahak Singhal awarded the Helmholtz Doctoral Prize 2020

No. 27 | 17/05/2021 | by Koh

How do tumor cells manage to spread through the body via the blood and lymph vessels? Mahak Singhal made outstanding discoveries on this topic in his doctoral thesis at the German Cancer Research Center. The aim of his work was to identify new ways of reducing tumor metastasis. In recognition of this excellent achievement, the Helmholtz Association has awarded him the Doctoral Prize 2020 in the field of health.

© Anspach / DKFZ

Every year, in each of its six research areas, the Helmholtz Association honors young researchers who have completed their doctorate at a Helmholtz Center and obtained outstanding results. This year's prizewinner in the field of health, Mahak Singhal from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), received the award for his research on how tumors spread.

Metastases – the spread of malignant solid tumors – are responsible for the large majority of deaths among cancer patients. Tumor cells use the blood and lymph vessels to spread through the body. In doing so, they come into close contact with the endothelial cells of the vessel walls and interfere with their control mechanisms.

At this interface between vascular biology and tumor biology, Mahak Singhal's research is geared toward gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms of metastasis formation in order to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic methods.

He was able to clarify the role that particular signaling and receptor molecules in endothelial cells play in the spread of tumors. He demonstrated in mice that antibodies against these control proteins can inhibit the formation of metastases in various tumors. In his most recent work, Singhal discovered that primary tumors systemically reprogram the endothelial cells to prepare the metastatic colonization. He managed to identify a protein responsible for this mechanism and to turn off its expression in a genetically modified mouse model. The animals subsequently developed fewer metastases.

A particular feature of Mahak Singhal's work is that he simulates the processes of metastasis formation in human tumors as faithfully as possible in preclinical systems. This has enabled him to identify new therapeutic target structures that are likely to be able to inhibit tumor metastasis more effectively in future.

Mahak Singhal studied biotechnology at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras. He enrolled as a doctoral student at DKFZ's Helmholtz International Graduate School for Cancer Research in 2013 and carried out his doctoral project in the Division of Vascular Oncology and Metastasis (headed by Hellmut Augustin). He has been conducting postdoctoral research at DKFZ since 2019.

The winners receive prize money of EUR 5,000 along with payments of up to EUR 12,000 to cover travel and materials for a research stay abroad.

A portrait photo of the award winner is available for download:

Note on use of images related to press releases
Use is free of charge. The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) permits one-time use in the context of reporting about the topic covered in the press release. Images have to be cited as follows: "Source: Anspach / DKFZ ".
Distribution of images to third parties is not permitted unless prior consent has been obtained from DKFZ's Press Office (phone: ++49-(0)6221 42 2854, E-mail: Any commercial use is prohibited.

With more than 3,000 employees, the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) is Germany’s largest biomedical research institute. DKFZ scientists identify cancer risk factors, investigate how cancer progresses and develop new cancer prevention strategies. They are also developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to questions relating to cancer.

To transfer promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improve the prognosis of cancer patients, the DKFZ cooperates with excellent research institutions and university hospitals throughout Germany:

  • National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT, 6 sites)
  • German Cancer Consortium (DKTK, 8 sites)
  • Hopp Children's Cancer Center (KiTZ) Heidelberg
  • Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON Mainz) - A Helmholtz Institute of the DKFZ
  • DKFZ-Hector Cancer Institute at the University Medical Center Mannheim
  • National Cancer Prevention Center (jointly with German Cancer Aid)
The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.


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