Dr. Harald zur Hausen, a German virologist who gained the Nobel Prize in Drugs in 2008 for his discovery that the seemingly benign human papillomavirus, identified for inflicting warts, additionally induced cervical most cancers, died on Could 29 at his dwelling in Heidelberg, Germany. He was 87.
His dying was introduced by the German Most cancers Analysis Heart in Heidelberg, which Dr. zur Hausen led for 20 years. Josef Puchta, the middle’s former administrative director and a longtime colleague and good friend, mentioned Dr. zur Hausen had a stroke in Could.
Dr. zur Hausen’s discovery paved the way in which for vaccines towards human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted illness that may additionally trigger different cancers, together with of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus and again of the throat.
Greater than 600,000 folks develop an HPV-related most cancers yearly, in line with the Nationwide Most cancers Institute. Vaccination can stop as many as 90 p.c of these cancers.
Dr. zur Hausen leaves “an enormous legacy, “Dr. Margaret Stanley, an HPV researcher on the College of Cambridge mentioned in an interview: a lifesaving vaccine and lifesaving checks to detect the virus.
Colleagues remembered Dr. zur Hausen as courteous, thoughtful and respectful — not at all times a given in high-profile analysis laboratories, they famous — and a couple of described him as a “gentleman.”
He was doggedly dedicated to his analysis and may very well be “unshakable” when he had an thought, mentioned Timo Bund, a scientist on the German Most cancers Analysis Heart. Dr. zur Hausen’s speculation that HPV induced cervical most cancers contradicted the prevailing knowledge of “virtually the total scientific world,” Dr. Bund mentioned, and took him a decade to show.
When he first proposed the notion, within the Seventies, many scientists believed that cervical most cancers was attributable to the herpes simplex virus. However Dr. zur Hausen may discover no signal of herpes within the biopsies of cervical most cancers sufferers. When he offered these outcomes at a scientific convention in 1974, he was “intensively criticized,” he recalled in an autobiographical article within the Annual Assessment of Virology.
Dr. zur Hausen had been intrigued by studies that genital warts may, in uncommon circumstances, flip into most cancers. He started to search for human papillomavirus DNA in cells from cervical most cancers sufferers utilizing a gene probe, a brief piece of single-stranded DNA designed to bind to a selected sequence within the HPV genome.
The work proved difficult, partially as a result of it grew to become clear that there have been many several types of HPV, every of which has its personal genetic sequence and never all of which trigger most cancers.
Dr. zur Hausen was undeterred. “I believe he by no means doubted in any manner that this was right,” mentioned Michael Boshart, a geneticist at Ludwig-Maximilians-College of Munich who was a Ph.D. scholar on the analysis group.
Lastly, in 1983, Dr. zur Hausen and his colleagues introduced that they’d discovered a brand new sort of HPV in cervical most cancers cells. The subsequent 12 months, they reported one other. About 70 p.c of cervical most cancers biopsies, they discovered, contained one in every of these two viruses.
Different scientists quickly confirmed the findings. “I felt some satisfaction on this state of affairs, as a result of as much as this second a number of colleagues had ridiculed our analysis, saying, ‘Everybody is aware of that warts and papillomaviruses are innocent,’” Dr. zur Hausen wrote within the Annual Assessment of Virology.
Dr. zur Hausen shared clones of the viral DNA freely with different researchers. “Most scientists are egocentric and hold on to their stuff,” Dr. Stanley mentioned. “As a result of he gave them out to the papillomavirus group, there was an absolute explosion of labor.”
That analysis helped speed up scientific understanding of the viruses in addition to the event of vaccines. The primary HPV vaccine was authorized in 2006. Dr. zur Hausen gained the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Drugs two years later, sharing it with the 2 French virologists who had found H.I.V., Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier.
He grew to become an ardent advocate for the vaccine, which is very efficient however which many kids don’t obtain. He argued that the vaccine, which was initially promoted primarily for women, must also be given to boys, which well being officers now suggest.
Harald zur Hausen was born on March 11, 1936, in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, the youngest of Melanie and Eduard zur Hausen’s 4 kids. His father was an officer within the German Military.
The commercial space the place he grew up was closely bombed in World Battle II. “As a consequence, all colleges closed firstly of 1943, which was clearly dangerous for training however welcomed by lots of the kids,” Dr. zur Hausen recalled. It might be almost two years earlier than he returned to high school.
He determined to check medication, earned his diploma from the College of Düsseldorf in 1960, and took an interest within the origins of most cancers. His peripatetic analysis profession took him to Kids’s Hospital of Philadelphia for a number of years after which to a number of German universities. Within the Nineteen Sixties and early ’70s, he carried out analysis on the Epstein-Barr virus and lymphoma.
In 1972, he moved to the College of Erlangen–Nuremberg, the place he started his work on cervical most cancers. He later continued that work on the College of Freiburg.
It was on the College of Erlangen–Nuremberg that he met the biologist Ethel-Michele de Villiers, who grew to become his spouse and his shut scientific collaborator.
No person “influenced my private life and my scientific profession extra,” Dr. zur Hausen wrote within the Annual Assessment of Virology. “She has repeatedly acknowledged, mockingly, that we two cut up our actions: She does the work, and I do the speaking. Certainly, a big proportion of experimental knowledge obtained throughout a number of a long time in addition to numerous wonderful concepts are hers. Taking a look at her work and her mental enter and proposals, incessantly underestimated by a number of of her colleagues, I see she has a degree in saying this.”
She survives him, as do three sons from a earlier marriage, Jan Dirk, Axel and Gerrit. Mates and colleagues mentioned they knew virtually nothing about that marriage, noting that Dr. zur Hausen was an intensely non-public individual.
He grew to become the scientific director of the German Most cancers Analysis Heart in 1983 and held that place till 2003. However he by no means stopped conducting analysis, and lately he turned his consideration to breast, colon and different cancers.
“He was retired from his directorship,” Dr. Puchta mentioned, “however not from his science.”