Photo © Ambassade de France en Allemagne
Professor Pfister’s research in pediatric oncology has led to a better understanding of the biology of brain tumors in children and has helped improve the clinical treatment and life expectancy of these young patientsAnne-Marie Descôtes
The prize, worth EUR 150,000 in Basic Research category, is one of the highest European awards for cancer research. Awarded this year for the 49th time, it is shared by two winners: Stefan Pfister and Michael Taylor of The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, Canada, in recognition of numerous pioneering papers on the research, diagnosis and treatment of childhood brain tumors. Michael Taylor and Stefan Pfister are world-leading specialists in childhood brain tumors, which, after leukemia, are the second most common group of cancers in children.
The French Ambassador to Germany, Anne-Marie Descôtes, presented Stefan Pfister’s award to him on behalf of Fondation ARC on 30th of March during a ceremony at the French Embassy in Berlin. “Europe-wide cooperation is essential for cancer research,” she said. “And successful private initiatives like the Léopold Griffuel Award are incredibly important for supporting and promoting progress in the area of public health. The Léopold Griffuel Award sponsored by Fondation ARC, which provides more than EUR 26 million for research projects each year, is one of the most important prizes in Europe in the field of cancer research. Professor Pfister’s research in pediatric oncology has led to a better understanding of the biology of brain tumors in children and has helped improve the clinical treatment and life expectancy of these young patients. It is a perfect example of the benefits that basic research brings to humanity.”
Stefan Pfister is the first German scientist to have won the Léopold Griffuel Award. “This award is a very special honor for me,” he said. “My sincere thanks go to the scientific committee for according such value and attention to childhood cancer research. I would also particularly like to thank my fellow prize winner, Michael Taylor, for numerous joint research successes and the many years of trust and collaboration, and all our supporters and colleagues, who constantly face new challenges and accompany us as we explore new avenues for our young patients.”
As a pediatrician, Stefan Pfister completed his doctorate at the University of Tübingen in 2002 and did his clinical training at the university hospitals in Mannheim and Heidelberg. Early on in his career, he conducted research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of Harvard Medical School in Boston, among other places. He started specializing in childhood brain tumors during his postdoc research at the DKFZ, in Peter Lichter’s department. Some of the key findings of his research that have had an immediate impact on the treatment of children with cancer include the discovery of characteristic genetic defects in certain medulloblastomas and low-grade gliomas. Children with these mutations now receive more targeted treatment. The introduction and systematic implementation of methylation-based molecular fingerprints for classifying tumors, in close collaboration with the Neuropathology Department at University Hospital Heidelberg, has revolutionized the classification of brain tumors in recent years and, consequently, has had a considerable influence on the WHO classification of CNS tumors, which is due to be published shortly.
The causes of 40 percent of all cases of certain medulloblastoma – dangerous brain tumors affecting children – are hereditary. A genetic defect that occurs in 15 percent of these children plays a key role by destabilizing the production and breakdown of proteins. The researchers suspect that protein metabolism defects could be a previously underestimated cause of other types of cancer.
Stefan Pfister’s research has been published in a total of 375 scientific papers. The 46-year-old pediatrician and researcher is also heavily involved in promoting the clinical development of new specific diagnostic and treatment options for childhood cancer. “Unfortunately, we still have far too many young patients who we are unable to help with the therapies currently available,” says Pfister. “Unlike in adult oncology, there is unfortunately a severe shortage of new, innovative treatment options aimed specifically at children, because there is not a big enough market for them.”
In 2016, to help young patients benefit as quickly as possible from promising approaches in the field of childhood cancer research, Pfister initiated the establishment of the Hopp Children’s Cancer Center Heidelberg (KiTZ), the first center in Germany to combine treatment and research for childhood cancer under one roof. Stefan Pfister is one of the three directors of the KiTZ. He has been head of the Department for Pediatric Neurooncology at the German Cancer Research Center since 2012. At the University Hospital Heidelberg (UKHD) he is deputy head of the KiTZ Clinical Trial Unit and the Pediatric Brain Tumor Section. In addition, he takes on leading roles in the main European research initiatives that deal with children and cancer, to give children with cancer access to innovative therapies.
Michael Baumann, Chairman of the DKFZ, congratulated Stefan Pfister on the exceptional award: “As a researcher at the DKFZ, Stefan Pfister has already made outstanding contributions to our understanding of various childhood brain tumors and, as a physician at University Hospital Heidelberg, he never loses sight of the needs of young patients. In particular, his outstanding commitment to harnessing research findings for the benefit of children with cancer has created brand new opportunities and conditions for pediatric oncology in Germany. We offer our warmest congratulations on this well-earned success.”
Stefan Pfister intends to invest the prize money in family-friendly patient communication on the subject of cancer and children. In collaboration with TV doctor and presenter Dr. Johannes Wimmer, the KiTZ will produce a series of videos with step-by-step information for young patients and their parents about cancer and what they can expect in the way of examinations and treatments.
Source: Hopp Children’s Cancer Center Heidelberg (KiTZ)