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Harald zur Hausen Receives American Association for Cancer Research Lifetime Achievement Award


PHILADELPHIA - Harald zur Hausen, D.Sc., M.D, internationally recognized for his research demonstrating the role of human papillomavirus as the etiological agent of cervical cancer, will receive the American Association of Cancer Research Award for Lifetime Achievement in honor of his life’s work devoted to the study of the viruses and cancer.

The AACR Lifetime Achievement Award was established in 2004 to honor an individual who has made significant fundamental contributions to cancer research, either through a single scientific discovery or a body of work. These contributions, whether they have been in research, leadership, or mentorship, must have had a lasting impact on the cancer field and must have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to progress against cancer.

In his early work, zur Hausen demonstrated that Burkitt’s lymphoma cells contained Epstein-Barr viral DNA, thus proving that viruses can persist in human tumor cells, and are associated with tumor growth. Zur Hausen and his colleagues were also able to demonstrate the association of Epstein-Barr virus in epithelial cells of nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

In 1972, at the age of 36, he was appointed Professor of Virology at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Bavaria, and started to examine the role of viruses in the etiology of cervical cancer, including the human papillomavirus (HPV).

In the 1970s and 1980s, zur Hausen provided the key investigative findings that led to the recognition that certain types of HPV are the etiologic agents of cervical cancer. This observation and the detailed studies that followed provided the basis for the extensive epidemiologic studies that independently validated the importance of these findings worldwide. Zur Hausen’s subsequent research on the immunogenicity of this virus set the stage for the development of a vaccine.

“Dr. zur Hausen is responsible for a body of scientific research that laid the foundation for one of the most important events of the past year in cancer research and public health - the approval of an effective vaccine for HPV,” said Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), AACR chief executive officer. “We expect this vaccine will lead to a marked decrease in the incidence of cervical cancer and ultimately protect countless young women from this disease.”

Zur Hausen’s work has also linked HPV to several other cancers including laryngeal carcinoma, penile carcinoma, and epidermal dysplasia.

Zur Hausen studied medicine in Bonn, Hamburg and Düsseldorf. He then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Düsseldorf for three years, followed by a three-year stay at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In 1972, he accepted the Chair of Virology at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and subsequently, in 1977, the Chair of Virology at the University of Freiburg. From 1983 until 2003, zur Hausen served as Chairman and Scientific Member of the Management Board of the Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum.

Zur Hausen has received several national and international awards for his research, including the Robert Koch Award, the Charles S. Mott Prize of the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation, the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Award, the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine, and the Charles Rudolphe Brupbacher Award. Furthermore, he was awarded honorary doctorates by the Universities of Chicago (USA), Umeå (Sweden), Prague (Czech Republic), Salford (England), Helsinki (Finland), Erlangen (Germany) and Wuerzburg (Germany).

His membership and honorary membership in numerous academies bear witness to his scientific commitment and high standing in the science community. He was recently elected to the Presidium of the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina. In 2002, he was elected as a foreign member of the Institute of Medicine (USA) of the American Academy of Sciences.


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