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Uǧur Șahin establishes scientific department at HI-TRON Mainz

No. 14 | 15/03/2022 | by Koh

The immunologist, cancer researcher and entrepreneur Uǧur Șahin is establishing a scientific department for mRNA-based cancer immunotherapy at the Helmholtz Institute "HI-TRON Mainz". In HI-TRON Mainz, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the TRON gGmbH as a subsidiary of the University Medical Center Mainz, the University Medical Center Mainz and the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz cooperate. The aim of the partnership is to develop effective immunotherapies, identify new biomarkers for the treatment of tumor diseases and thus further advance personalized cancer therapy.

Uǧur Șahin
© Wikipedia/Raimond Spekking

The compelling idea behind the concept of mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies: Messenger RNA molecules (mRNA) are used to get the body to produce its own tumor proteins that stimulate the immune system to fight the cancer. The great advantage of this approach is that it makes it comparatively easy and fast to produce highly individualized tumor vaccines. To do this, scientists first search the tumor genome of individual patients for mutations that distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells and that are possible targets for a therapeutic vaccine. The appropriate mRNA molecules containing these mutations are then produced in the laboratory and can be used as an individual therapeutic cancer vaccine.

Uǧur Șahin is one of the world's most important pioneers in this research field. The professor of translational oncology and immunology at the University Medical Center Mainz and co-founder of BioNTech AG has already conducted early clinical trials on the efficacy of personalized mRNA vaccines against cancer. But there is still an immense need for research: Which target structures are suitable, which types of cancer can be treated with this therapy, how can cancer cells be prevented from evading immune attack? And is mRNA vaccination sufficient as a therapy or must it be combined with other treatments? These are just some of the questions that the researchers in Șahin's department, which was established on February 1 at the DKFZ as the sponsor of HI-TRON Mainz, intend to address.

In the Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology Mainz (HI-TRON Mainz), the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) cooperates with the Research Institute for Translational Oncology at the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (TRON gGmbH), the University Medical Center Mainz and the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz to bring together the partners' internationally outstanding expertise in the field of personalized immunotherapy with cutting-edge translational research at DKFZ. The mission of HI-TRON Mainz is to build on the expertise and know-how of the partners to exploit the potential of individualized immunotherapy for the benefit of cancer patients. The strategic goal is also to position Germany in the leading international league in this innovative and relevant field.

With the Helmholtz Institutes, the Helmholtz Association creates the basis for a lasting close collaboration between a Helmholtz Center, in this case the DKFZ, and a university in a field of research that is of particular importance to both partners.

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institution in Germany. More than 1,300 scientists at the DKFZ investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and search for new strategies to prevent people from developing cancer. They are 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 all questions on cancer.

Jointly with partners from the university hospitals, the DKFZ operates the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg and Dresden, and the Hopp Children's Cancer Center KiTZ in Heidelberg. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of the six German Centers for Health Research, the DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partner locations. NCT and DKTK sites combine excellent university medicine with the high-profile research of the DKFZ. They contribute to the endeavor of transferring promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improving the chances of cancer patients.

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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