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German Prize for Cancer Prevention Research awarded for the second time

No. 56 | 30/10/2023 | by Koh

Cancer prevention can save lives and prevent great suffering. Yet research on cancer prevention issues often receives little visibility. In order to recognize outstanding achievements in cancer prevention research and to draw more public attention to them, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) has announced the German Prize for Cancer Prevention Research. The award is sponsored by the Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation.

Rita Schmutzler
© Christian Wittke

The two-part prize will be awarded on October 31 at the 3rd German Cancer Research Congress. The main prize is awarded to Rita Schmutzler from the University Hospital of Cologne, an internationally recognized pioneer in risk-adapted prevention of breast and ovarian cancer. The Young Investigator Award goes to Jens Puschhof of DKFZ for his discovery of how certain bacteria promote colorectal cancer - a finding that opens up new possibilities for prevention.

Experts agree that a sustainable decline in cancer numbers can only be achieved if the great potential of cancer prevention is better exploited. According to current knowledge, primary prevention and early detection together can reduce cancer mortality by up to 70 percent.

However, many questions about cancer prevention still await answers. For example, little research has been done on whether the molecular processes that cause cells to become cancerous can be stopped with vaccinations or drugs. It is also largely unknown which genetic or familial risk constellations require adapted screening regimens, or how screening programs need to be designed to gain widespread acceptance.

"Research projects dedicated to cancer prevention issues are underrepresented and underfunded within cancer research. They are often not very attractive to young scientists, because successes of cancer prevention programs can usually only be seen in statistics years or even decades after their introduction," says Michael Baumann, Director of the German Cancer Research Center. "We thank Manfred Lautenschläger and his foundation for enabling us to award this prestigious prize, which we hope will provide an incentive for scientists to engage in this life-saving field of research."

"The prize is a recognition for excellent scientists whose research helps to ensure that fewer people develop cancer or succumb to the disease because it was discovered too late," says Manfred Lautenschläger, founder and Honorary Chairman of the Supervisory Board of MLP SE. The German Prize for Cancer Prevention Research is awarded every two years. The prize is divided into two parts. The winners were selected by a high-ranking international jury.

The main prize, endowed with 25,000 euros, is aimed at excellent, established researchers; the young scientists' prize, endowed with 5,000 euros, is intended as an incentive for young scientists. This year's main prize for cancer prevention research goes to gynecologist Rita Schmutzler from the University Hospital of Cologne. She is an internationally recognized pioneer in the risk-adapted prevention of breast and ovarian cancer. The aim of her research is to unravel the genetic causes of the predisposition and to offer risk-adapted prevention programs to affected women in order to either prevent the onset of the disease or to detect it early enough to make it curable.

Rita Schmutzler initiated and led numerous research projects to identify breast cancer risk genes. She has been a major contributor to ensuring that risk-adapted early cancer detection in the field of gynecology in Germany can build on a precise scientific foundation. From 2005, she coordinated the Familial Breast and Ovarian Cancer Consortium, a network that now involves 23 university centers. In this role, Rita Schmutzler works tirelessly to ensure that the latest findings in genomic medicine are incorporated into the clinical care of patients. It is thanks to her commitment that risk-adapted prevention of gynecological tumors is now firmly established in Germany and is financed by the statutory health insurance funds.

After medical studies and residency in Bonn as well as two research fellowships in the USA, Rita Schmutzler took over the establishment and management of the Center for Familial Breast and Ovarian Cancer at the Bonn Women's Hospital in 1994. She has been a university professor at the University of Cologne since 2003 and has been director of the Center for Familial Breast and Ovarian Cancer there since 2012.

Jens Puschhof
© Jutta Jung/DKFZ

The Young Investigator Award for Cancer Prevention Research goes to Jens Puschhof of the DKFZ. He is an expert on so-called organoids, tiny tissue structures that can be grown from cells in the culture dish. Cancer cells from a patient's individual tissue samples can also be grown into cancer organoids in this way. The advantage of these mini-organs and minitumors is that researchers can add various components of the microenvironment, including bacteria from the gut microbiome, to the culture dish and study the behavior of the organoids.

In this way, Puschhof discovered on intestinal organoids that certain E. coli bacteria trigger mutations that can promote cancer development. In the future, such harmful bacterial species could potentially be displaced by targeted therapies, thereby halting cancer development. Puschhof's team is currently investigating the microbiome of patients with precancerous lesions in observational clinical studies in order to develop new preventive approaches.

After studying molecular biotechnology and oncology in Heidelberg, Harvard and Oxford, Jens Puschhof moved to the laboratory of Hans Clevers at Utrecht University for his doctoral thesis. In 2022, he founded the research group "Epithelium Microenvironment Interaction Laboratory" in the Department of Microbiome and Cancer at DKFZ.

The 3rd German Cancer Research Congress will take place from October 30 to November 1 at DKFZ in Heidelberg. Once again, the German Cancer Society, German Cancer Aid and the DKFZ are organizing the congress together with their networks, the CCC Network, the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) and AEK. The goal is to showcase the power of oncology research in Germany.

Photos of the award winners are available at: 
(Source: Jutta Jung/DKFZ) 
(Source: Christian Wittke)

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: Jutta Jung/DKFZ" or "Source: Christian Wittke".
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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