The cancer researcher and medicine Nobel Prize winner Harald zur Hausen is dead. He died on Sunday at the age of 87, as the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg announced on Monday evening. “With him we are losing an outstanding scientist who has made groundbreaking achievements in the field of tumor virology,” said Michael Baumann, Chairman and Scientific Director of the DKFZ.
Zur Hausen headed the renowned research facility for 20 years. The internationally known virologist was considered the spiritual father of a widely used vaccine against cervical cancer and other tumors, which earned him the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2008. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Harald zur Hausen has opened up a whole new dimension in cancer prevention,” says Baumann. Most recently, the scientist had been researching a possible connection between milk and beef consumption and the development of breast and colon cancer.
Zur Hausen was born on March 11, 1936 in Gelsenkirchen. He studied medicine in Bonn, Hamburg and Düsseldorf. In the early 1980s, he provided evidence that certain sexually transmitted skin wart viruses – so-called human papilloma viruses (HPV) – can trigger cervical cancer. In doing so, he created the conditions for the development of a vaccine that has been approved for the European market since 2006. Initially, there was great skepticism among colleagues, as zur Hausen once said.
In 1983 zur Hausen was appointed head of the DKFZ. Even after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2008, his primary interest was the role of viral infections in the development of cancer. He came to the DKFZ into old age and researched pathogens that could be associated with the development of breast and colon cancer. In the course of his research career, zur Hausen was honored with an impressive number of academic awards. He was the recipient of almost 40 honorary doctorates and numerous honorary professorships. The culmination of his scientific career came in 2008 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine. In 2009, zur Hausen received the large Federal Cross of Merit with Star of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic. In 2017, the city of Heidelberg made him an honorary citizen.