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Professor Dr. Robert Zeiser Honored with DKMS Mechtild Harf Science Award

Professor Dr. Robert Zeiser Honored with DKMS Mechtild Harf Science Award 2024

The DKMS Stiftung Leben Spenden has bestowed the prestigious DKMS Mechtild Harf Science Award 2024 upon Professor Dr. Robert Zeiser, a leading figure in the field of allogeneic stem cell transplantation. This award celebrates the lifelong contributions of distinguished physicians and scientists in the realm of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy.

"Professor Dr. Robert Zeiser's groundbreaking research on Graft-versus-Host Disease (GvHD) has paved the way for innovative therapeutic approaches, revolutionizing standard practices and significantly enhancing patient outcomes post-stem cell transplantation," remarked Professor Dr. Katharina Fleischhauer, a member of the DKMS Medical Council and Head of the Institute for Cell Therapy Research at Essen University Hospital. Zeiser, serving as Head of the Department of Tumor Immunology and Immune Regulation, and Head of the Zeiser Laboratory at the Department of Internal Medicine I at Freiburg University Hospital, graciously accepted the award on April 15, 2024, amidst an international gathering of physicians and guests at the annual EBMT (European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation) meeting in Glasgow. Additionally, at the ceremony, four outstanding young scientists in the field of blood cancer therapy were honored with the highly esteemed DKMS John Hansen Research Grant 2024.

"Zeiser's global reputation in allogeneic stem cell transplantation and his pivotal contributions to our understanding of GvHD mechanisms make him a standout figure in the field," asserted Prof. Fleischhauer during the presentation of the DKMS Mechtild Harf Science Award, which includes a grant of 10,000 Euros. "The therapeutic breakthroughs stemming from his research represent a paradigm shift in patient care, showcasing the successful translation of fundamental scientific discoveries into tangible clinical benefits."

Innovative Therapies for Life-Threatening Immune Reactions

For many patients battling acute leukemia, allogeneic blood stem cell transplantation remains their sole chance for a cure. However, this therapy comes with inherent risks, notably the occurrence of GvHD - a potentially fatal immune response affecting nearly half of all transplant recipients. Thanks to the pioneering work of Professor Zeiser and his team, new therapeutic avenues have emerged to counter this dire complication. Through meticulous investigation into disease mechanisms, Zeiser's team identified a Janus kinase inhibitor capable of dampening the inflammatory cascade characteristic of GvHD. Leveraging an FDA-approved cancer drug, this intervention offers a promising means to mitigate and prevent adverse immune reactions post-transplantation. The results of an international multicentric phase-III study led to the approval of Ruxolitinib for the treatment of acute and corticosteroid-refractory GvHD.

Moreover, Zeiser's research uncovered the pivotal role of the intestine in triggering acute immune responses post-transplantation, shedding light on novel therapeutic targets. "Our analyses revealed that blood cancer cells can manipulate immune cell function through lactic acid signaling. We aim to elucidate these processes further, with the ultimate goal of developing targeted therapies to avert severe post-transplant complications," remarked Zeiser, who also serves as spokesperson for the Collaborative Research Centre 1479 OncoEscape and a member of the Cluster of Excellence CIBSS (Centre for Integrative Biological Signaling Studies).

Nurturing the Next Generation of Scientific Talent

In addition to honoring established luminaries, the DKMS also recognizes the vital contributions of young researchers through the DKMS John Hansen Research Grants 2024. This year, Livius Penter, MD (Charité, University Hospital Berlin, Germany), Tobias Wertheimer, MD (University of Freiburg, Germany), Senthil Bhoopalan, MD, PhD (Memphis, USA), and Nicoletta Cieri, MD, PhD (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, USA) were acknowledged for their outstanding endeavors in blood cancer therapy research.

These bright young minds are dedicated to exploring various facets of blood cancer treatment, including early disease detection, GvHD prognostication, immune-leukemia cell interactions, and rare diseases such as Diamond-Blackfan anemia (DBA). "Investing in the future by nurturing budding medical and scientific talent is paramount," emphasized Prof. Dr. Marcel van den Brink, Chairman of the DKMS Medical Advisory Board. The DKMS John Hansen Research Grant provides up to four young scientists with 240,000 Euros over a three-year period to advance their research in stem cell transplantation and cell therapy for blood cancer. Further information on application procedures and eligibility criteria for the DKMS John Hansen Research Grant is available.

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