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Cancer research pioneer calls for emphasis on prevention as well as cure

Nobel prize winner and University of Warwick honorary doctor, Prof Harald zur Hausen, has called for more emphasis on cancer prevention.

He received his honorary title at one of the University's graduation ceremonies held on 16 July. Speaking just before he was presented with the honour he stated that the medical profession and governments should not underestimate the importance of preventative measures as well as cancer treatments.

He said: “To do something about cancer we need to put more emphasis on prevention. I think that is still underrated in the medical training of many universities in Europe and other parts of the world because all the physicians are trained to treat the sick patients, which is important there is no doubt about it, but we need to emphasise much more prevention.

He stated that he believed that prevention was neglected to an extent because medical students and doctors are trained to treat patients. He added: “We need to create some awareness in the medical profession that prevention is very much important and needs to be prioritised and on the other hand it is also the task of public health officers and ministries to emphasise prevention as well. If you look into the cost of cancer treatment they are enormous and prevention is basically relatively cheap.”

In 2008, Professor zur Hausen was the co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for medicine for the discovery of the human papilloma virus causing cervical cancer. In 1976, he published the hypothesis that human papillomavirus plays an important role in the cause of cervical cancer. Together with his collaborators, he then identified HPV16 and HPV18 in cervical cancers in 1983-4. This research directly made possible the development of a vaccine which was introduced in 2006.

He received a number of national and international awards, among them the Robert-Koch-Price, the Charles S. Mott Price of the General Motors Cancer Research Foundaton, the Federation of the European Cancer Societies Clinical Research Award, the Paul-Ehrlich-Ludwig Darmstädter-Price, the Jung-Price, Hamburg, the Charles Rudolphe Brupbacher Price, Zürich, the Prince Mahidol Award, Bangkok, the Raymond Bourgine Award, Paris, the Coley-Award, New York, the Life Science Achievement Award of the American Association for Cancer Research, San Diego. He has also received 31 honorary doctorates.

He is an elected member of various academies (LEOPOLDINA, Heidelberg Academy of Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences, Venezuela National Academy of Medicine, American Philosophical Society, Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), Foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences and research organizations (EMBO, HUGO), National Academy of Sciences, USA, and became an Honorary Member of a number of biomedical scientific societies. A large number of Special Lectures and Visiting Professorships, Memberships in Editorial Boards and active involvements in the organization of international meetings complement his curriculum.

From 1989-1991 he chaired the Association of National Research Centres, in Bonn, Germany. From 1993-1996 he was President of the Organization of European Cancer Institutes. From 2000-2009 zur Hausen was Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Cancer, and from 2006-2009 he was member of the Board of Directors of the International Union against Cancer (UICC). From 2003-2009 he was Vice-President of the German National Academy for Natural Sciences and Medicine LEOPOLDINA in Halle. Since 2006 he is a member of the National Science Transfer and Development Agency in Bangkok, Thailand.

17 July 2015

For further details contact:

Nicola Jones, Interim Communications Manager, University of Warwick

P: 02476 150868
M: 07824 540863

Podcast of the interview: