German Cancer Research Center in the Helmholtz Association (DKFZ)

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) is Germany’s largest biomedical research institute. Over 3,000 staff members from 78 foreign countries, including more than 1,300 scientists, 500 doctoral students and 400 postdoctoral scientists are dedicated to performing and driving cutting edge research for a life without cancer. The characterization of cancer pathomechanisms and epidemiological identification of cancer risk factors are of vital importance for novel and personalized approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Organized in more than 100 different Divisions and Research Groups, our scientists have made decisive progress in the discovery of fundamental causes and special features of cancers, the creation of new, diagnostic and therapeutic strategies through to innovative clinical trials with recent additions in health economy. With its location on the vibrant Neuenheim Campus in Heidelberg, the DKFZ closely interacts with renowned clinical and research institutions, such as the Heidelberg University Hospital, University, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). The combination of excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at the DKFZ is an important contribution to improving the chances of cancer patients. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association, 19 national research centers that contribute to solving the grand challenges facing science, society, and the economy through top-level research. The DKFZ is publicly funded, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.

Heidelberg – a “City of Science” – is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Germany with an international population: An estimated 45,000 of Heidelberg’s inhabitants have an international background – many of them are scientists and students.

Research Topics and Scientific Collaborations

The research at the DKFZ is organized into six research programs

Cell and Tumor Biology

Functional and Structural Genomics

Cancer Risk Factors and Prevention

Immunology and Cancer

Imaging and Radiooncology

Infection, Inflammation and Cancer

The DKFZ is an international leader in a number of research areas including stem cell research, bioinformatics and systems biology, cancer genomics, neurooncology, pediatric oncology, cancer prevention, tumor immunology, virology, and radiooncology. Research at the DKFZ is highly collaborative across research programs, exemplified by the topic of data science. Several scientists at the DKFZ have received the most prestigious academic awards, including Prof. Harald zur Hausen, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2008 for his work on Human Papilloma Virus, Prof. Stefan Hell, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research on super-resolution imaging, Prof. Ralf Bartenschlager, who was recipient of the 2016 Lasker~DeBakey Award in recognition of his ground-breaking research on Hepatitis C Virus, and Prof. Hans-Reimer Rodewald who received the 2019 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize for his work on how various types of immune cells develop from stem cells and together form a functioning immune system.

Further to advancing fundamental research into the causes and prevention of cancer, in the past years the DKFZ has significantly strengthened its translational research activities. These include not only the translation of discoveries in basic research into novel therapies and diagnostics, but also reverse translation of clinical observations back into the laboratory to drive new biological discoveries. To this end, the DKFZ – together with the University Hospitals in Heidelberg and Dresden – established the National Centers for Tumor Diseases (NCT), the leading Comprehensive Cancer Centers in Germany. To further strengthen pediatric oncology, it has recently founded the Hopp Childrens’ Tumor Center (KiTZ) at the NCT in Heidelberg.

Another important activity of the DFKZ in the area of translational research is the German Cancer Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK). This consortium, for which the DFKZ is the core center, was established in 2012 together with seven leading University Hospitals in the field of oncology in Germany, based on international peer review. Furthermore, the DKFZ is a founding member of Cancer Core Europe, a partnership of six European cancer research centers, with the mission to advance translational and clinical research.

In Heidelberg, the DKFZ partners with Heidelberg University in the German Excellence Initiative, with the DKFZ-ZMBH Alliance and the CellNetworks Cluster of Excellence being notable joint activities. Additional national strategic partnerships include the National Center for Radiation Research in Oncology (HIRO in Heidelberg and OncoRay in Dresden), the Heidelberg Ion-Beam Therapy Center (HIT) and HI-STEM (Heidelberg Institute for Stem Cell Technology and Experimental Medicine, a joint venture with the Dietmar Hopp Foundation). The DKFZ is also part of the German National Cohort (GNC), an interdisciplinary epidemiological study implemented by a national network of 25 German research institutions.

Training Programs and Career Development

Talent management and career development at the DKFZ plays a central role in maintaining excellence. The DKFZ puts a strong emphasis on the international recruitment of excellent scientists, specifically welcoming diverse and international backgrounds, and has developed programs to support the compatibility of family and careers at all levels. Structured education of graduate students is provided by the DKFZ International PhD Program and, together with the DKFZ International Postdoc Program and an established Career Service, our training programs prepare junior scientists for their next career step inside or outside of academia. The new DKFZ Clinician Scientist Program fosters innovative translational research by strengthening the research profile of clinician scientists. The progam deepens the link between basic and clinical research, ensuring sufficient transfer from bedsite to bench and back. Junior faculty are regularly recruited and mentored in tenure-track programs. Collaborative training activities with strategic national and international partners include joint Research Schools with the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel), clinician-scientist training programs through the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT – see above) and German Cancer Consortium (DKTK – see above) and exchange programs with the Karolinska Institute (Sweden), National University of Singapore, the MD Anderson Cancer Center (USA) and partners of Cancer Core Europe.

Outreach and Technology Transfer

As part of its societal outreach activities, the DKFZ runs the Cancer Information Service (KID), a free of charge telephone and web-based hotline for cancer patients throughout Germany, which provides patients, their families and also medical staff with evidence-based comprehensive information. The WHO collaborating center on Tobacco control advises the government and is a public advocate for cancer prevention.

The DKFZ promotes technology transfer through licensing and supporting spin-off companies. Recent examples include IOMx, Apogenix and mtm. The DKFZ also has strong collaborations with industry partners; Together with Bayer Healthcare, the center has a long-standing strategic cooperation to support joint projects, including a joint laboratory on immunotherapy located at the DKFZ. Other industry partners include Bosch, SAP and Siemens.

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