Harald zur Hausen, MD, DSc, a Fellow of the AACR Academy and a Nobel Prize-winning virologist whose work led to the development of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, died May 29, 2023, at the age of 87.
Dr. zur Hausen was born March 11, 1936, in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. He studied medicine at the Universities of Bonn, Hamburg, and Düsseldorf, earning his medical degree from the University of Düsseldorf in 1960.
In the early 1960s, zur Hausen moved to the United States to join the Virus Laboratories of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Over the course of his career, he held faculty positions in the United States and at several German universities and served as chairman and scientific director of the German Cancer Research Center.
In his early work, zur Hausen discovered that Burkitt lymphoma cells contained DNA from the Epstein-Barr virus, thus proving that viruses can persist in human tumor cells. He and his colleagues also elucidated connections between Epstein-Barr virus and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. He later developed simple methods to isolate human papillomaviruses that led to the discovery of HPV 6, a cause of genital warts.
In 1983, zur Hausen identified HPV 16 and HPV 18 DNA in cervical tumors. These two HPV strains have since been implicated in approximately 70 percent of cervical cancers, as well as several other cancer types. His discoveries led to the introduction of HPV vaccines and stand among the most important advances ever made in cancer prevention. In recognition of his pioneering work, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2008.
Dr. zur Hausen joined the AACR in 1987 and was elected an Honorary member in 2010. He received the AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research in 2008 and was elected to the inaugural class of Fellows of the AACR Academy in 2013.
He was also an elected member of the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences. He served as president of the Organisation of the European Cancer Institutes, and as vice president of Leopoldina, the German Academy of Natural Sciences and Medicine.
Among many career awards, zur Hausen received the Robert Koch Prize in 1975, the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize in 1994, the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine in 1996, and the Charles Rodolphe Brupbacher Prize for Cancer Research in 1999.
He received the Prize of the Pan American Society for Clinical Virology in 2005 and the Gairdner Foundation International Award in 2008, and was named a Big Four of the Millennium by the German Society for Gynecology and Obstetrics in 2016. “Dr. zur Hausen’s discovery of the role of human papillomavirus in cervical cancer was a remarkable advance, leading to revolutionary progress against this deadly disease,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “Countless lives have been saved as a result of his innovative science, dedication, and passion for cancer research.”
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