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Honorary doctorate from Heidelberg University for Webster K. Cavenee

No. 23c | 21/04/2023 | by Koh

The Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University awarded an honorary doctorate to Webster K. Cavenee, the long-time chairman of the International Scientific Committee of the German Cancer Research Center, on April 21. Cavenee, a cell biologist and geneticist, is thus being honored for his outstanding achievements in cancer research - and equally for his many years of commitment to research institutions in Heidelberg, especially the German Cancer Research Center.

Hans-Georg Kräusslich (l.), Dean of the Heidelberg Medical Faculty, and Bernhard Eitel, Rector of Heidelberg University (r.), congratulate Webster K. Cavenee.
© Uwe Anspach/DKFZ

Webster K. Cavenee, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of California at San Diego and Director Emeritus at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, has an impressive research record: In nearly 500 scientific publications, most of them in high-impact journals, the U.S. cell biologist and geneticist has published his findings on the genetic basis of cancer development and on genetic approaches to cancer therapy.

Cavenee is one of the pioneers of genetic cancer research. As a young scientist, he made an extraordinary breakthrough with the first identification of a tumor suppressor gene: retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer in children, develops when both copies of the Rb tumor suppressor gene are knocked out. Rb normally acts as a brake on tumor growth. Cavenee thus described for the first time a new type of genetic disposition for cancer development. It is now known that alterations or losses of tumor suppressor genes are partly responsible for a large proportion of all cancers and have led to the development of novel forms of cancer therapy.

As director of the Ludwig Institute in San Diego, Cavenee focused his research on glioblastoma. This particularly aggressive form of adult brain tumor has no cure today. Webster Cavenee investigated the genetic causes of the disease, in particular mutations in the growth factor receptor genes, in order to identify possible targets for targeted therapies against this severe disease.

Webster Cavenee has been associated with the German Cancer Research Center since 1995, initially as a reviewer of the scientific program. In 2007, he was appointed to the DKFZ Scientific Committee, which he chaired from 2010 to 2019. During these years, he advised the DKFZ on numerous strategic initiatives and on the recruitment of senior scientists. He was involved in planning the structure and implementation of the DKFZ Clinical Cooperation Units as well as the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) and the German Cancer Consortium, and supported the DKFZ in developing relationships with Israeli and Chinese institutions, among others.

With his consultations, he played a decisive role in the establishment of the alliance between the DKFZ and the Center for Molecular Biology of the University of Heidelberg (ZMBH), whose external scientific advisory board he served on from 2010 to 2019. The DKFZ-ZMBH Alliance is a key element of Heidelberg University's excellence concept and a new model of collaboration between a member of the community of Helmholtz large-scale research centers (DKFZ) and a university institution.

The conferral of the honorary doctorate took place on April 21 in the university's Alte Aula. In his laudatory speech, Michael Boutros, Deputy Scientific Director, acknowledged Cavenee's achievements in cancer research and conveyed the thanks of all DKFZ staff for his many years of commitment.

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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