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Nobel Prize Winner Talks about Cattle Viruses, Beef and Dairy Consumption and Human Cancers in Pitt School of Medicine Lecture

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A winner of a 2008 Nobel Prize will speak at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine about the possibility that many cases of breast and colon cancer could have been triggered by the consumption of viruses in beef and dairy products. The talk, “Dairy Cattle as a Source for Zoonotic Infections of Humans,” is part of the 2015 Laureate Lecture series and co-sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Cancer Virology Program.

Harald zur Hausen, M.D., Nobel laureate and professor emeritus at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery that human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer. He shared the prize with two co-discoverers of human immunodeficiency virus, HIV. In his talk at noon, Tuesday, Sept. 22, in Lecture Room 6, Scaife Hall, Oakland, Dr. zur Hausen will explore epidemiological and experimental evidence that suggests an association between cattle viruses, human consumption of beef and dairy products and cancer development.

In the 1970s, he postulated that oncogenic HPV caused cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women. Specific searches for the viral DNA in cervical tumors revealed that HPV is a heterogeneous family of viruses, only some types of which cause cancer. His discovery has led to characterization of the natural history of HPV infection, an understanding of mechanisms of HPV-induced carcinogenesis, and the development of prophylactic vaccines against HPV acquisition.

Dr. zur Hausen shared the high-risk HPV16 and 18 with the scientific community, ultimately leading to the development of vaccines that provide greater than 95 percent protection from infection by those strains. The vaccines also may reduce the need for surgery and the global burden of cervical cancer.

Dr. zur Hausen studied medicine at the Universities of Bonn, Hamburg and Düsseldorf, where he received his medical degree in 1960. He worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Microbiology in Düsseldorf and in the Division of Virology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, where he later joined the faculty. He returned to Germany to serve as a senior scientist at the Institute of Virology of the University of Würzburg and, in 1972, was named professor and chair of virology at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. In 1977 he moved to a similar position at the University of Freiburg. From 1983 until 2003 he was scientific director of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg.

In addition to a Nobel, Dr. zur Hausen’s national and international accolades include the:

  • Charles S. Mott Prize of the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation
  • Federation of the European Cancer Societies Clinical Research Award
  • Paul-Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstädter Prize
  • Ernst Jung Prize
  • Prince Mahidol Award
  • Raymond Bourgine Award
  • Life Science Achievement Award of the American Association for Cancer Research

He has received 30 honorary doctorates from universities around the world. He is a foreign member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and is a member of the Leopoldina (the German National Academy of Sciences), the American Philosophical Society, the Institute of Medicine, and many other societies. He has served as editor in chief of the International Journal of Cancer and as vice president of the Leopoldina.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Note to media: Reporters interested in covering the event should contact Anita Srikameswaran at 412-578-9193, 412-720-2058, or