Prof. Dr. Harald zur Hausen
Physician, cancer research specialist, Nobel Prize for Medicine 2008
DAAD Scholarship 1975
His research saves lives: for more than 50 years Harald zur Hausen has been hunting for the causes of infection-related cancers. For his findings on papilloma viruses, which he succeeded in identifying as a cause of cervical cancer, he was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He has also received numerous other awards in recognition of his scientific achievements, and in 2009 was awarded the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Each new finding raises new questions.
His thesis that viruses could cause cancer was long scoffed at. “You have to stand by your convictions,” says the researcher, who was born in Gelsenkirchen in 1936. What helped him to do that? “The firm belief that you’re on to something worthwhile.” His findings led to the development of vaccines and preventive measures against one of the most common types of cancer in women.
For 20 years, until 2003, Harald zur Hausen headed the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, Germany’s biggest biomedical research institute. Even now, the retired professor works in the laboratory there every day – when he’s not travelling, that is. “International exchange is an important factor in successful research,” emphasises zur Hausen. The medical expert has frequently held guest professorships at universities around the world, including a spell in Brazil on a DAAD scholarship. “I still keep up these international contacts, even today.” It is unanswered questions that drive his research work. “I believe that the connection between viruses and cancer has yet to be fully elucidated,” he explains. “Each new finding raises new questions.”
His research group is currently investigating a potential connection between eating beef and contracting colon cancer – another hotly debated topic in the research community. That doesn’t bother the Nobel Prize winner, of course. His aim, if the connection is confirmed: “Perhaps getting beef cattle vaccinated to prevent further cases of the disease.”