50th Anniversary of the German Cancer Research Centre
The German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2014.
It was one of the highlights of a great success story when, in 2008, Harald zur Hausen was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine. The scientist, who was working at the German Cancer Research Centre (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) had identified the human papillomavirus as the pathogen that causes cervical cancer. This made it possible to develop a vaccine against one of the most common cancers occurring in women: a huge medical breakthrough.
However, such triumphs are only one side of the fight against cancer. Usually, success comes from a lot of small steps. 765 researchers and their assistants work day after day at the DKFZ to uncover the mysteries of these cruel diseases and to look for new strategies to combat them. The institute, which was founded in 1964, has gained a great international reputation. Especially productive is the Centre's integration into a joint research landscape with the University of Heidelberg and the European Molecular Biological Laboratory (EMBL), which is also based in Heidelberg. Furthermore, the University and the DKFZ have been running the National Centre for Tumour Diseases since 2003.
One focus for DKFZ experts at the Centre's Cell Biology and Tumour Biology department is to study the causes and origins of leukaemia. The growth-inhibiting PTEN gene plays a key role in this context. If it is damaged, there is a pathological proliferation of leukocytes, or white blood cells. The people affected, often children, then suffer from leukaemia. The DKFZ team under the leadership of Andreas Trumpp have succeeded in shedding some light on the connection between PTEN and leukocyte production. The genetic defect does not directly initiate the uncontrolled division of blood stem cells in the bone marrow, but leads to an overproduction of a chemical messenger. This in turn causes numerous stem cells from the bone marrow to migrate to the spleen, where they multiply; it also encourages existing leukocytes to divide. This marks the beginning of a life-threatening chain reaction that might soon become treatable with drugs.
International Children's Cancer Day on 15 February