Harald zur Hausen

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Harald zur Hausen
zur Hausen in 2010
Born(1936-03-11)11 March 1936
Died29 May 2023(2023-05-29) (aged 87)
Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Known forDiscovery that HPV can cause cervical cancer
Scientific career
InstitutionsGerman Cancer Research Center University of Heidelberg

Harald zur Hausen NAS EASA APS (German pronunciation: [ˈhaʁalt tsuːɐ̯ ˈhaʊzn̩] i; 11 March 1936 – 29 May 2023) was a German virologist. He carried out research on cervical cancer and discovered the role of papilloma viruses in cervical cancer, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2008. He was chairman of the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) in Heidelberg.

Life and career[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Zur Hausen was born in Gelsenkirchen[1] in a Catholic family. He completed his Abitur at Antonianum Grammar School in Vechta, then studied medicine at the universities of Bonn from 1955, Hamburg from 1957, and Düsseldorf from 1958, and received a Doctor of Medicine degree there in 1960.[1] He pursued internships in Wimbern, Isny, Gelsenkirchen, and Düsseldorf, qualifying as a physician in 1962.[1]


He joined the Institute for Microbiology at the University of Düsseldorf as a laboratory assistant in 1962.[1] After three and a half years there, he moved to Philadelphia to work at the Virus Laboratories of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia together with eminent virologists Werner and Gertrude Henle,[2] who had escaped from Nazi Germany. In 1967, he contributed to a ground-breaking study that for the first time proved a virus (Epstein–Barr virus) can turn healthy cells (lymphocytes) into cancer cells.[3][4] He became an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania in 1968.[1] In 1969, he returned to Germany to become a regular teaching and researching professor at the University of Würzburg's Institute for Virology. In 1972, he moved to the University of Erlangen–Nuremberg. In 1977, he moved on to the University of Freiburg (Breisgau), where he headed the Department of Virology and Hygiene.[1]

Working with Lutz Gissmann, zur Hausen first isolated human papillomavirus 6 by simple centrifugation from genital warts.[5] He isolated HPV 6 DNA from genital warts, suggesting a possible new way of identifying viruses in human tumours. This discovery paid off several years later, in 1983, when zur Hausen identified HPV 16 DNA in cervical cancer tumours by means of Southern blot hybridization.[6] This was followed by the discovery of HPV18 a year later,[7] thus identifying the causes of approximately 75% of human cervical cancer. The announcement of his breakthrough sparked a major scientific controversy.[8]

From 1983 until 2003, zur Hausen served as chairman of the board and scientific advisory board member of the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) in Heidelberg[9] and as professor of medicine at Heidelberg University.[10]

From 2007 to 2011, zur Hausen was a member of the scientific advisory board of Zukunftskolleg at the University of Konstanz.[11] He was editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Cancer until the end of 2010.[11][12] On 1 January 2010, zur Hausen became the vice president of German Cancer Aid, the largest cancer charity in Europe.[11]

Scientific merits[edit]

Zur Hausen's field of research was the study of oncoviruses. In 1976, he hypothesised that human papillomavirus plays an important role in causing cervical cancer. Together with his collaborators, he then identified HPV16 and HPV18 in cervical cancers in 1983–84. This research made possible the development of the HPV vaccine, the first formulation of which was commercialised in 2006. He is also credited with discovery of the virus causing genital warts (HPV 6) and a monkey lymphotropic polyomavirus that is a close relative to a recently discovered human Merkel cell polyomavirus, as well as of techniques to immortalise cells with Epstein–Barr virus and to induce replication of the virus using phorbol esters. His work on papillomaviruses and cervical cancer received a great deal of scientific criticism when first published but subsequently was confirmed and was used as the basis for research on other high-risk papillomaviruses.[8]

Nobel Prize[edit]

Zur Hausen shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, the discoverers of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).[13]

The award of the 2008 Nobel Prize to zur Hausen became controversial following the revelation that Bo Angelin, a member of the Nobel Assembly that year, also sat on the board of AstraZeneca, a company that earns patent royalties for HPV vaccines.[14] The controversy was exacerbated by the fact that AstraZeneca had also entered into a partnership with Nobel Web and Nobel Media to sponsor documentaries and lectures to increase awareness of the prize.[14] However, colleagues widely felt that the award was deserved,[15] and the secretary of the Nobel Committee and Assembly issued a statement affirming that Bo Angelin was unaware of AstraZeneca's HPV vaccine patents at the time of the vote.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Zur Hausen had three sons from his first marriage, Jan Dirk, Axel and Gerrit. In 1993, he married Ethel-Michele de Villiers,[1] who at the time was a fellow researcher at the German Cancer Research Center, and who in prior years had co-authored many research journal articles with zur Hausen on papilloma virus and genital cancer, dating as far back as 1981.[5][4] He acknowledged her research contributions and support in his Nobel Prize biography.[16]

Zur Hausen died on 29 May 2023, at age 87.[4][9][17][18][19]


  • Zur Hausen, Harald (2006). Infections Causing Human Cancer. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH. ISBN 3-527-31056-8. OCLC 160074602.



Honorary degrees[edit]

Zur Hausen received almost 40 honorary doctorates and numerous honorary professorships,[9][18] including degrees from the universities of Chicago, Umeå, Prague, Salford, Helsinki, Erlangen-Nuremberg, Ferrara, Guadalajara and Sal.[40]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Curriculum vitae" (PDF). science-connections.com. 2007. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  2. ^ "Henle, Werner and Gertrude. Papers". Archived from the original on 4 August 2009. Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  3. ^ Henle, Werner (1 September 1967). "Herpes-Type Virus and Chromosome Marker in Normal Leukocytes after Growth with Irradiated Burkitt Cells | Science". Science. 157 (3792): 1064–1065. doi:10.1126/science.157.3792.1064. PMID 6036237. S2CID 30764560.
  4. ^ a b c Müller-Jung, Joachim (30 May 2023). "Sein Ansatz war die radikale Krebsprävention". FAZ (in German). Retrieved 31 May 2023.
  5. ^ a b zur Hausen H, de Villiers EM, Gissmann L (October 1981). "Papillomavirus infections and human genital cancer". Gynecol Oncol. 12 (2 Pt 2): S124–8. doi:10.1016/0090-8258(81)90067-6. PMID 6273261.
  6. ^ M Dürst; L Gissmann; H Ikenberg; H zur Hausen (1 June 1983). "A papillomavirus DNA from a cervical carcinoma and its prevalence in cancer biopsy samples from different geographic regions". PNAS. 80 (12): 3812–3815. Bibcode:1983PNAS...80.3812D. doi:10.1073/pnas.80.12.3812. PMC 394142. PMID 6304740.
  7. ^ Boshart, M; Gissmann, L; Ikenberg, H; Kleinheinz, A; Scheurlen, W; zur Hausen, H (1984). "A new type of papillomavirus DNA, its presence in genital cancer biopsies and in cell lines derived from cervical cancer" (PDF). EMBO J. 3 (5): 1151–7. doi:10.1002/j.1460-2075.1984.tb01944.x. PMC 557488. PMID 6329740. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  8. ^ a b Harald zur Hausen / German virologist. June 2023. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  9. ^ a b c "Nobel laureate Harald zur Hausen has passed away". DKFZ. Retrieved 29 May 2023.
  10. ^ "Nobelpreisträger – Universität Heidelberg". Archived from the original on 25 December 2008. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Curriculum Vitae Prof. Dr. Harald zur Hausen" (PDF). Leopoldina (in German). 28 May 2023. Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  12. ^ zur Hausen, Harald (1 July 2002). "Volume 100 of theInternational Journal of Cancer". International Journal of Cancer. 100 (1): 1. doi:10.1002/ijc.10499. ISSN 0020-7136. S2CID 221775223.
  13. ^ a b "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008". Nobelprize.org. 6 October 2008. Retrieved 6 October 2008. 2008 Nobel Prize winner "for his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer"
  14. ^ a b c Cohen, Jon (15 December 2008). "A Nobel Prize for Overblown Controversy?". Science Insider. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Archived from the original on 14 June 2013. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  15. ^ Cohen, J; Enserink, M (2008). "HIV, HPV Researchers Honored, but One Scientist is Left Out". Science. 322 (5899): 174–175. doi:10.1126/science.322.5899.174. PMID 18845715. S2CID 206582472.
  16. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008: Harald zur Hausen". The Nobel Prize. 2008. Retrieved 1 February 2023.
  17. ^ "Nobelpreisträger Harald zur Hausen ist tot". Die Zeit (in German). Retrieved 29 May 2023.
  18. ^ a b "Medizin-Nobelpreisträger Harald zur Hausen gestorben". ZDFmediathek (in German). 29 May 2023. Retrieved 29 May 2023.
  19. ^ "Traueranzeige von Harald zur Hausen" (in German). Retrieved 12 July 2023.
  20. ^ "Awards". Robert-Koch-Stiftung. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  21. ^ "Lila and Murray Gruber Memorial Cancer Research Award and Lectureship". aad.org. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  22. ^ Hausen, Harald Zur (15 May 1987). "Charles S. Mott prize papillomaviruses in human cancer". Cancer. 59 (10): 1692–1696. doi:10.1002/1097-0142(19870515)59:10<1692::AID-CNCR2820591003>3.0.CO;2-F. PMID 3030526. S2CID 71987233.
  23. ^ "Prize Winners of the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize" (PDF). uni-frankfurt.de. The Paul Ehrlich Foundation. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  24. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 3 December 2021.
  25. ^ "Harald zur Hausen Receives Raymond Bourgine Award" (PDF). Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum in Heidelberg. 30 January 2006. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  26. ^ "William B. Coley Award". cancerresearch.org. Cancer Research Institute. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  27. ^ "2007 Recipients". Warren Alpert Foundation Prize. Warren Alpert Foundation. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  28. ^ "AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research: Past Recipients". aacr.org. American Association for Cancer Research. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  29. ^ "Harald zur Hausen". The Gairdner Foundation. Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 25 May 2008.
  30. ^ "Bundesverdienstkreuz für Nobelpreisträger Harald zur Hausen". German Cancer Research Center (in German). Retrieved 1 June 2023.
  31. ^ "All Award Recipients". American Society of Clinical Oncology. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  32. ^ "Previous winners of the Mike Price Gold Medal Award". eacr.org. The European Association for Cancer Research. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  33. ^ "Academy of Europe: Hausen Harald". www.ae-info.org. Retrieved 5 August 2022.
  34. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 5 August 2022.
  35. ^ "Harald zur Hausen". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 3 December 2021.
  36. ^ "Honorary Fellows of the World Hellenic Biomedical Association". WHBA. World Hellenic Biomedical Association. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  37. ^ "Harald zur Hausen, MD – Class of 2013". aacr.org. Americn Association of Cancer Research. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  38. ^ "Honorary members". German Society of Virology. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  39. ^ "Novi člani Slovenske akademije znanosti in umetnosti" [The New Members of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts]. Sazu.si. June 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  40. ^ "Prof. Dr. med. Dr. h.c. mult. Harald zur Hausen / Nobelpreisträger für Medizin 2008". DKFZ. Retrieved 1 June 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Harald zur Hausen". science-connections.com (in German). Retrieved 2 June 2023. (interview, CV, publications)
  • Cornwall, Claudia Maria (2013). Catching Cancer: The Quest for its Viral and Bacterial Causes. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 978-1-4422-1522-1. OCLC 834582359.
  • Morgan, Gregory J (2022). "Planned Practical Playoffs: Harald zur Hausen, Jian Zhou, Ian Frazer, Douglas Lowy, John Schiller, HPV, and the Cervical Cancer Vaccine". Cancer Virus Hunters: A History of Tumor Virology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 9781421444017. OCLC 1276804549.

External links[edit]