AwardProf. Dr Stefan Pfister Receives Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize

8 December 2022

Germany’s prime research award honours his studies in paediatric oncology

The Heidelberg scientist Prof. Dr Stefan Pfister, an outstanding researcher in the field of paediatric oncology, is to receive the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation (DFG) – the most important research award in Germany. The award honours his studies to investigate and develop new diagnosis and treatment procedures for childhood brain tumours. These studies, according to the DFG, make it possible to diagnose the tumours more effectively and so to improve treatment for the patients. Stefan Pfister is head of division at the German Cancer Research Center and professor at the Medical Faculty Heidelberg of Heidelberg University; he is the director of the Hopp Children’s Cancer Center Heidelberg and also serves as a paediatric oncologist at Heidelberg University Hospital. The Leibniz Prize for 2023, worth 2.5 million euros for each recipient, goes to ten outstanding researchers.

Porträt Prof. Dr. Stefan Pfister

Prof. Dr Bernhard Eitel, Rector of Heidelberg University, states with regard to the Leibniz Prize award: “The prize-winner, Stefan Pfister, is a distinguished basic researcher and medic who personifies the close connection between life sciences and medical applications. The award is also evidence of the strength of the Health + Life Science Alliance Heidelberg Mannheim, which – as exemplified in Stefan Pfister’s research – combines medical skills with novel molecular biological methods.”

In its statement of reasons for awarding the prize, the DFG particularly highlights Prof. Pfister’s analyses of brain tumour tissue, which build on novel genome-based approaches and, inter alia, take into account changes in the expression of genes and their epigenetic regulation. Prof. Pfister’s research enabled a new molecular-pathological classification of childhood brain tumours, which has been recognised and adopted by the World Health Organization. Today, this scientific basis forms the foundation worldwide for a more accurate diagnosing of diseases that have over 100 different molecular causes, as the Heidelberg scientist has shown. The German Research Foundation regards Stefan Pfister’s investigations as “a breakthrough in paediatric oncology and an impressive example of precision medicine”.

Stefan Pfister studied human medicine at the Universities of Hamburg and Tübingen. After earning his doctorate in Tübingen he became a post-doctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School in Boston / Massachusetts (USA). He trained in paediatrics at Mannheim University Hospital, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Heidelberg University Hospital. His habilitation in 2010 at Heidelberg University entitled him to teach paediatrics as a subject. Since 2012 Stefan Pfister has headed the Division of Pediatric Neurooncology at the DKFZ and has held an eponymous professorship at the Medical Faculty Heidelberg since 2014. He directs the preclinical programme in the three-person directorate of the Hopp-Children’s Cancer Center Heidelberg (KiTZ) – a joint institution of the German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg University Hospital and Heidelberg University. Prof. Pfister’s studies have received multiple awards, including an ERC Consolidator Grant – a high endowment from the European Research Council – and, most recently, the Baden-Württemberg State Research Award for Applied Research.

The Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize has been awarded annually by the German Research Foundation since 1986. Every year there can be up to ten awards, each worth 2.5 million euros. With the Leibniz Programme the DFG aims to improve the working conditions of outstanding researchers, expand their research opportunities, relieve them of administrative duties and make it easier for them to employ particularly qualified early career researchers. The 2023 prizes will be awarded on 15 March of next year in Berlin.