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Nobel Prize winner speaks about link between infection agents, cancer at Karmanos Cancer Institute

Harald zur Hausen, M.D., professor emeritus of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, and one of the winners of the 2008 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2008, attracted standing room-only crowds at Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute’s Grand Rounds on Dec. 6 at the Margherio Conference Center of Wayne State University School of Medicine (WSU SOM).

Dr. zur Hausen’s presentation was titled, “The search for infectious agents causing human cancers.” He spoke about the various agents that can lead to the development of cancer in the human body, including various viruses like the human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis and Epstein-Barr, the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, and parasites. He noted that 21 percent of human cancers are linked to infectious agents.

He also talked about how long it takes for the various infectious agents to lead to the development of cancer and the link between the consumption of red meat and the development of colorectal cancer. The incidences of colon cancer through the consumption of red meat are particularly high in countries like the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina, while the incidences of the disease are very low in countries that don’t consume red meat, including India and in various Asian countries. Dr. zur Hausen mentioned that there is a specific bovine factor that is causally linked to human colorectal cancer and may lead to latent infections in the colorectal tracts.

Dr. zur Hausen received the Nobel Prize for his work in identifying the link between HPV and cervical cancer. He realized that HPV DNA could exist in a non-productive state in tumors and should be detectable by specific searches for viral DNA. He also found that only some HPV types cause cancer. His discovery led to the characterization of the natural history of HPV infection; an understanding of mechanisms of HPV-induced carcinogenesis; and the development of vaccines against HPV acquisition.

Dr. zur Hausen was born in 1936 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. He received his medical degree at the University of Dusseldorf. He holds numerous honorary doctorates and has had his research published more than 400 times in various medical publications.

“It is a true honor for the faculty and staff of the Karmanos Cancer Institute and WSU SOM, as well as our many students, to welcome a scientist whose outstanding work has garnered a Nobel Prize,” said Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of Karmanos. “The link between infectious agents and cancer represents a very exciting and important area of research, one that promises the development of treatments that will truly eradicate cancer.”  


Dr. zur Hausen speaks to standing room-only crowds at Karmanos and Wayne State University School of Medicine during a recent grand rounds. He spoke about his research into the link between infectious agents and cancer. 



Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of Karmanos Cancer Institute, far left, is pictured with Harald zur Hausen, M.D., center, professor emeritus of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, and one of the winners of the 2008 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2008, and Vainutis Vaitkevicius, M.D., M.A.C.P., president emeritus of Karmanos. 


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