AwardHonorary Doctorate for Molecular Geneticist Webster K. Cavenee

Press Release No. 36/2023
17 April 2023

American scientist honoured for his services to cancer research

In recognition of his outstanding achievements in cancer research, cell biologist and geneticist Prof. Dr Webster K. Cavenee is to receive an honorary doctorate from the Medical Faculty Heidelberg of Heidelberg University. At the same time, the Faculty is honouring his commitment to one of the university’s close cooperation partners – the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg – with which the American scientist has had close ties in various capacities for almost three decades. Prof. Cavenee’s research took place at the University of California San Diego (USA) and he is Director emeritus of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, a medical research organisation operating at the international level. Prof. Dr Bernhard Eitel, Rector of Heidelberg University, will award the honorary doctorate at a joint ceremony of the university and the DKFZ on 21 April 2023.

Webster K. Cavenee

Prof. Cavenee is regarded as one of the pioneers of genetic cancer research. While still a young scientist he achieved an extraordinary breakthrough, being the first to provide evidence of a tumour suppressor gene by studying a rare type of eye cancer in children that allowed him, for the first time, to describe a new type of genetic predisposition for developing cancer. Today it is known that changes or losses of tumour suppressor genes are partly responsible for a large number of cancer cases, which has led to the development of novel forms of cancer treatment. Prof. Cavenee has an impressive research record, having published his findings in approximately 500 scientific articles, mostly in prestigious journals. As Director of the Ludwig Institute in San Diego, his most recent focus was on the genetic causes of glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain tumour in adults that is regarded as incurable.

Webster Cavenee has been linked with the German Cancer Research Center since 1995, initially as a reviewer of its scientific programme. In 2007 he was appointed to the DKFZ’s Scientific Committee, which he chaired from 2010 to 2019. In those years he advised the DKFZ on numerous strategic initiatives and the recruiting of leading scientists. With his advice he had a decisive share in founding the strategic alliance between the German Cancer Research Center and the Center for Molecular Biology of Heidelberg University (ZMBH) – an innovative model of cooperation between a member of the Helmholtz Association and a university institution. Prof. Cavenee was also a member of the external scientific advisory council of the DKFZ-ZMBH Alliance from 2010 to 2019.

Having obtained his doctorate in 1977 at the University of Kansas Medical School in Manhattan (USA), Webster Cavenee then did research at different research organisations in the United States, including Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and the University of Cincinnati. From 1986 to 1991 Prof. Cavenee was Director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Montreal where he had a professorship at McGill University (Canada). After that, he transferred to the University of California San Diego (USA). Furthermore, from 2003 to 2015 the molecular geneticist served as Founding Director at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in San Diego. Webster Cavenee has received multiple awards for his research.

The conferral of the honorary doctorate will include addresses by the Rector of Ruperto Carola and the Dean of the Faculty, Prof. Dr Hans Georg Kräusslich. The tribute to Prof. Cavenee will come from Prof. Dr Michael Baumann, Chairman and Scientific Director of the German Cancer Research Center. In his keynote speech, entitled “Mama I can’t see: The Human Impetus for Cancer Genetics”, the guest of honour will report on his work.

Note for newsrooms

The conferral of the honorary doctorate to Prof. Dr Webster K. Cavenee is taking place on 21 April 2023 in the Great Hall of the Old University, starting at 4 pm. Media representatives are warmly invited to attend and report. Registration by email to presse@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de is requested.