Scholars' Association News
Issue 20
October 2011


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Τhe Onassis Foundation Science Lectures Series 2011

"Cancer prevention by vaccination: Benefit from the identification of infectious agents in human cancer causes" was the title of the talk given by Professor Harald zur Hausen, Nobel Prize 2008 in Medicine, at the Onassis Cultural Centre on the 8th of July 2011.

Professor zur Hausen of the German Cancer Research Centre, Heidelberg, Germany, visited Athens on the occasion of his participation as keynote speaker in the Onassis Foundation Science Lectures Series which were held this year on July 11-15 at the Foundation for Research and Technology, Heraklion, Crete.

Before his talk at the Onassis Cultural Centre Professor zur Hausen was intuduced by Dr George Pavlakis, Chief of the Human Retrovirus Section, Center for Cancer Research (CCR), National Cancer Institute in Maryland.

Professor zur Hausen stepped away from the mainstream theories and published the hypothesis that the human papilloma virus (HPV) plays an important role in the cause of cervical cancer, the second most common type of cancer among the female population. He discovered that HPV viruses are a separate group of viruses, some of which can cause cancer. His discovery led to the characterization of the cycle of viral infection, to the understanding of HPV induced cancer mechanisms as well as to the development of the HPV vaccine. For his contributions to medical science Harald zur Hausen received the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Among other distinctions, he is also the recipient of Robert Koch Prize (1975), the Charles S. Mott Prize of the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation (1986), the William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Immunology (2006) and the Federation of the European Cancer Societies Clinical Research Award.

The 2011 seminar lectures in Biology touched on the rather intriguing and currently relevant field of modern biological and medical research, virology. Viruses, the smallest biological units of life with protein structure on earth, are known to all of us as troublesome, dangerous or even lethal agents that can cause numerous diseases. Virology – the biology of viruses – is a scientific field which studies the significant impact viruses have on human health and their consequent socio-economic effect.

In this year’s Science Lecture Series, supported by the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, the invited speakers presented the latest developments on the "hot fronts" of virology, and the advances made in scientific thinking which have brought about great achievements in the field. Special reference was made to retroviruses, which have helped us expand our knowledge on oncogenes – the genes which, in mutated states, are responsible for cancer. In specific, important issues were discussed and the results of recent research on HIV were presented. There was also similar mention in another virus, EBV, whose role in the creation of cancer cells is equally important. Finally, a review was made on researches on various types of HPV. In the long-time battle against viral diseases, the medical community has managed to develop the first vaccine for cervical cancer, based on a long-term research on HPV.

Professor Naomi Rosenberg, Vice Dean for Research, Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, Tufts University School of Medicine, gave the openning speach on "Mouse Retroviruses and Solving Mysteries Surrounding Human Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia". The next speaker was Professor George N. Pavlakis, who talked about The AIDS pandemic: History, present, and prospects for AIDS vaccines as well as the HIV/AIDS: Molecular Biology and pathogenesis.

Professor Harald zur Hausen, this year’s keynote speaker presented two issues the following day: the first concerned Infectious Agents linked or suspected to be linked to Human Cancers, while the second covered the subject of Vaccination for Cancer Prevention. He was followed by Professor Naomi Rosenberg, who gave a lecture on Retroviruses as Gene Therapy Vectors: Promise and Problems.

The third day of the Onassis Lectures started with a presentation by Dr. Eva Klein, Em.Professor at the Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology, Karolinska Institute, who talked about Our equilibrated coexistence with Epstein Barr Virus and its disturbances. Her lecture was followed by the public lecture given by Prof. Harald zur Hausen on Roots and Developments in Understanding the Role of Infectious Agents in Human Cancers.

Dr Elliott D. Kieff, Professor at the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Channing Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, presented the Role of Epstein-Barr Virus Nuclear Proteins in Lymphocyte Transformation, as well as a comparison of EBV conversion of B-lymphocytes to Lymphoblasts with Notch conversion of T Lymphocytes to Leukemia.

Finally, Professor Philip N. Tsichlis, Director of Molecular Oncology Research Institute, Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, Tufts Medical Center concluded this year’s Onassis Lectures series with a talk entitled "From viruses to cancer and from cancer back to viruses. Oncogenes activated by retroviruses give clues on the epigenetic regulation of virus replication".

The Onassis Foundation Science Lecture Series are organized for the 11th consecutive year and are now a globally ground-breaking established institution. Amongst the professors that have participated in the program to date are eleven Nobel Laureates. Mr. Ioannis Papamastorakis, Professor Emeritus at the University of Crete, chairs the Organisational Committee for the Onassis Foundation Science Lecture Series.

These lectures aim to further the education of young talented Greek and foreign scientists, as well as of students – undergraduate and postgraduate – in the field of sciences, and to promote them. The Alexander S. Onassis Foundation will cover all travel and accommodation expenses for 35 Greek and 15 foreign students, who will be chosen according to their academic performance. The students will receive a certification for their attendance and participation in the Lectures.

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