… is a stronghold of cancer research?

There is hardly any disease that poses such a challenge as cancer does. Every organ can be attacked. No type of cancer is like another. And even tumours of the same organ differ from patient to patient. Cancer is diagnosed approximately 500,000 times annually in Germany alone. With this diagnosis comes a shock for most patients, frequently combined with a fear of dying. This is true although the chances to be cured have increased significantly during the last decades: Since 1980, the death rate among cancer patients has continuously decreased. Every second, someone is permanently healed these days. This is due in large part to the Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (German Cancer Research Centre), abbreviated as DKFZ, which was founded in Heidelberg in 1964.

About 3,000 people work on getting to the bottom of cancer at Germany’s biggest bio-medical research institution. More than 90 departments and research groups tackle the disease in seven thematic fields. They search for the genetic basis of the illness and compare healthy cells with affected ones. They record risk factors and show connections between environmental factors and the formation of tumours. They explore possibilities of programmed cell death. They develop new methods of medical imaging to improve diagnostics. They transform basic research results into clinical practice. They conduct research on the role viruses play in carcinogenesis. And they inform cancer patients, their relatives and the interested public about this widespread disease.

While doing all this, they often closely collaborate with their partners from the industry and science, for example at the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT), which the Heidelberg University Hospital and the German Cancer Aid operate together.

If you want to see how effective and innovative this research is, you might for example just have a look at the nearly 1000 protective rights and patents the center has. Or you might take a glance at the many awards the DKFZ scientists were honoured with during the last years. The most important of these certainly are the Nobel Prizes for Prof. Harald zur Hausen (medicine) and Prof. Stefan Hell (chemistry). While Hell was awarded for his achievements in high-resolution fluorescence microscopy in 2014, the Nobel Prize committee honoured zur Hausen for his ground-breaking research on carcinogenesis in 2008. Already in the mid-1970s, zur Hausen had the suspicion that the human papillomavirus (HPV) could be the cause of cervical cancer. The hunch earned him a healthy dose of derision, until in the mid-1980s when he finally succeeded in proving it at the DKFZ—laying the foundation for the first cancer vaccine worldwide.