For his outstanding work in cancer medicine, Prof. Dr. Robert Zeiser, principal investigator in the CRC 1160 (B09), received together with Prof. Dr. Nikolas von Bubnoff of the University of Lübeck the German Cancer Prize 2021 in the translational research category. This was announced by the German Cancer Society on February 3, 2021, which awards the prize together with the German Cancer Foundation. It acknowledges Zeiser’s and Bubnoff’s research, which contributes significantly to the better control of serious complications after a stem cell transplant. The award ceremony takes place in summer.
“The cancer award is a great acknowledgement of our research. The therapy, we have developed, makes stem cell transplants safer. We therefore hope that it will be approved in Europe soon, ”says Zeiser.
When the savior becomes the enemy
For the majority of those suffering from acute leukemia, an allogeneic blood stem cell transplant is the only chance of recovery. Those affected then receive blood stem cells from another person. However after the transplant, about every second person experiences a life-threatening immune reaction, the so-called graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). The transplanted immune T cells recognize the intestinal, skin and liver tissue of the recipient as foreign and damage it. About half of GvHD patients do not respond to common immunosuppressive therapies, such as cortisone.
Thanks to the work of Zeiser and Bubnoff, an effective treatment option is now also available for these patients.
The researchers discovered that a certain drug from the family of so-called Janus kinase inhibitors is able to block the inflammatory messenger substances that occur in GvHD. An international multicenter study, initiated by the two award winners, showed that the drug can bring the complications of GvHD under control in significantly more patients and that those affected are well off in the long term. Based on the study, the drug has now been approved for the treatment of GvHD in the United States.