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Zimmermann Medal to LIT scientist

The prestigious Johann Georg Zimmermann Medal was awarded this year to LIT scientist Prof. Hinrich Abken in recognition of his lifetime achievements.

Prof. Abken

Article Details

  • Author

    • Prof. Michael Rehli

  • Date Published

    June 23, 2023

Medal Awarding

From left: Prof. Dr. Peter Hillemanns, MHH President Prof. Dr. Michael Manns, the two award winners Dr. Mark Schmitt and Prof. Dr. Hinrich Abken, Minister of Science Falko Mohrs and Prof. Dr. Siegfried Piepenbrock, Förderstiftung MHH plus.

The Johann Georg Zimmermann Medal is one of the highest awards for merit in cancer research in Germany, and is awarded by the Förderstiftung MHH plus. This year’s recipient, Hinrich Abken, Director at the Leibniz Institute for Immunotherapy in Regensburg, is a pioneer of CAR T cell therapy—an immunotherapy which offers a viable final-therapy option for leukemias and lymphomas. The President of the Hanover Medical School, Prof. Michael Manns, presented the award, together with the Deputy Chairman of the Förderstiftung MHH plus, Prof. Siegfried Piepenbrock, and in the presence of Lower Saxony’s Science Minister, Falko Mohrs. “In Professor Hinrich Abken, we are honoring an internationally renowned cancer researcher who has made significant contributions to tumor immunotherapy,” said Professor Manns.

Prof. Siegfried Piepenbrock, deputy chairman of the Förderstiftung MHH plus commented: “External financiers from business and industry have increasingly withdrawn from funding science prizes in the recent past. However, such prizes still play a very special role in raising the public profile of science and honoring individuals who have accomplished outstanding achievements. Thus, the Förderstiftung MHH plus is happy and proud to finance the Johann Georg Zimmermann Medal and Prize and to be able to present them together with the MHH. In Professor Hinrich Abken, a true pioneer of CAR-T cell therapy, an outstanding cancer researcher is being honored.”

Prof. Philipp Beckhove, Scientific Director at the LIT commented: “The LIT congratulates Hinrich Abken on this outstanding recognition of his scientific and translational achievements in the field of synthetic immunology. He has succeeded in developing diverse, innovative gene therapy concepts and tools. With these, immune cells can be equipped with entirely new functions and reprogrammed into “living drug factories.” These concepts have proven to be robust and clinically feasible and form an important basis for the development of new immunotherapies against previously incurable diseases at LIT and worldwide.”

Quote from Prof. Michael Manns

In Prof. Hinrich Abken, we are honoring an internationally renowned cancer researcher who has made significant contributions to tumor immunotherapy.
Prof. Michael Manns
President Förderstiftung MHH plus

Professor Hinrich Abken studied medicine in Essen, where he became involved in experimental cancer research during his studies. After a doctorate and post-doctoral period in molecular and cell biology at the West German Tumor Center (with Prof. M. F. Rajewsky), he moved to the Institute of Genetics at the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University of Bonn (with Prof. K. Willecke). Here he worked as a research group leader in 1987 and qualified in the subjects of genetics and immunology in 1993. In the same year, he was appointed Professor of Tumor Genetics at the Clinic I for Internal Medicine (with Prof. M. Hallek) at the Medical Faculty of the University of Cologne, where he turned his attention to researching the immune response against tumors. Since 2018, he has headed the Division of Genetic Immunotherapy at the LIT—the Leibniz Institute for Immunotherapy—and holds the Chair of Genetic-Immunotherapy at the University of Regensburg.

“We were fascinated to see whether the immune response of T cells could be specifically directed against tumors,” says Professor Abken. As early as 1994, his research group developed recombinant recognition molecules, now known as chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). In those 30 years of pioneering, visionary research and development in synthetic immunology, he succeeded in taking ‘CAR engineering’ from the initial idea of a directed T-cell response into the solid reality of clinical application.

Commendations were also received from the President of the University of Regensburg, Prof. Udo Hebel: “Congratulations to Prof. Abken for this prestigious award and for his excellent work in the field of immunology at the Regensburg site.”

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