Salute to cutting-edge research: EKFS awards Publication Prizes 2024

New approaches to diagnostics and therapy for cancer, as well as for neuro-degenerative and rare diseases
Publication Prizes

Bad Homburg v. d. Höhe, July 3, 2024 – Today the foundation Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung (EKFS) is announcing the prizewinners of its Publication Prizes for this year. The distinction is honoring five research scientists for their outstanding and, from a medical viewpoint, highly relevant findings, which they published in 2023 and achieved within the scope of funding by EKFS.

“The research findings from the winners of the Publication Prize enable more precise diagnoses and personalized treatment approaches while opening up new therapeutical options,” explains Prof. Dr. Michael Madeja, Chairman of the Management Board at EKFS: “These factors can distinctly improve the lives of patients.” Each of the prizes is endowed with EUR 10,000.

The five Publication Prizes 2024 from Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung are going to:

Prof. Dr. Frederik Damm
Prof. Dr. Frederik Damm

Prof. Dr. Frederik Damm (Charité – University Hospital Berlin) utilizes new sequencing methods for more precise diagnoses and personalized treatments of leukemia and lymph node cancer. The Publication Prize from EKFS acknowledges that Damm has identified genetic markers that make both an accurate risk assessment and the basis for new, targeted therapeutic approaches for patients with primary mediastinal B-cell lymphomas possible.

PD Dr. Florian Scherer
PD Dr. Florian Scherer

PD Dr. Florian Scherer (University Medical Center Freiburg) demonstrates in his prizewinning publication how liquid biopsy technology can be used toward the diagnosis and monitoring of CNS lymphomas. The workgroup was able to show that the highly sensitive detection of circulating tumor DNA in blood and cerebrospinal fluid allows an accurate risk stratification and minimally invasive identification of patients with central nervous system (CNS) lymphomas. In future this technique might make it possible to detect genetic alterations in the blood or cerebrospinal fluid, and consequently to begin therapies sooner and adapt them precisely.

Dr. Ria Schönauer while discussing a liver volumetry
Dr. Ria Schönauer while discussing a liver volumetry

Dr. Ria Schönauer (Charité – University Hospital Berlin) is developing new assessment criteria for the prognosis and treatment of polycystic liver disease (ADPLD). She is receiving the EKFS Publication Prize for her findings that improve risk assessment with reference to ADPLD. In addition, Schönauer’s research enables personalized therapies which can slow down the disease’s progress and increase the quality of life for patients.

Dr. Dr. Lukas Bunse: Flow cytometric analysis of brain  tumor immune cells
Dr. Dr. Lukas Bunse: Flow cytometric analysis of brain tumor immune cells

Dr. Dr. Lukas Bunse (UMM University Medical Centre Mannheim) is studying the interaction of genetic alterations in brain tumors and the immune system during their emergence and treatment. His prizeworthy publication opens up new approaches that provide help in enabling endogenous immune cells to be activated toward combating tumor cells.

PD Dr. Sankowski is active as Senior Physician and Advanced Clinician Scientist at the Institute for Neuropathology in Freiburg.
PD Dr. Sankowski is active as Senior Physician and Advanced Clinician Scientist at the Institute for Neuropathology in Freiburg.

The immune system of the brain equally forms the focus of the work done by PD Dr. Roman Sankowski (University Medical Center Freiburg). He conducts research on immune responses in the case of brain tumors. EKFS is honoring him for his finding published in 2023 that immune cells in the brain can be regenerated via blood cells. This opens up new therapeutic possibilities.

Detailed information on the publications

Prof. Dr. Frederik Damm, Dept. of Medicine, specializing in Hematology, Oncology and Tumor Immunology, Charité – University Hospital Berlin, Paper:

Prof. Dr. Damm has achieved decisive advances in hematology by making use of molecular techniques such as next-generation sequencing (NGS). With NGS, a DNA or RNA sequence can be determined quickly and cost-effectively. In his paper published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology bearing the title “Genetic Characterization of Primary Mediastinal B-Cell Lymphoma: Pathogenesis and Patient Outcomes,” Damm showed how more precise diagnoses and personalized treatment approaches for primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL) are possible using NGS. PMBCL is a rare, aggressive form of lymph node cancer that predominantly affects young women. The disease makes itself conspicuous due to the rapid increase of cancerous cells in the central region of the thorax, and is therefore particularly threatening. Especially prizeworthy is that Damm’s team identified genetic markers via genomic characterization, for instance specific genetic mutations. This enabled the research scientists to carry out accurate risk stratifications – in other words, to divide the patients up into groups in order to gauge the risk of certain progressions of the disease or the risk of complications. Personalized treatment approaches build on the diagnoses displaying greater precision which, in turn, help to improve the prospects for the lives of patients with PMBCL.

PD Dr. Florian Scherer, Dept. of Medicine I, specializing in Hematology, Oncology and Stem-Cell Transplantation, University Medical Center Freiburg, Paper:

Advances in diagnostics are also reflected in the work by PD Dr. Florian Scherer. His prizeworthy publication published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology is entitled “Circulating Tumor DNA Profiling for Detection, Risk Stratification, and Classification of Brain Lymphomas.” It demonstrates how so-called liquid biopsy technology can be deployed for the diagnosis and monitoring of lymphomas of the central nervous system (CNS). The liquid biopsy makes it possible to detect cancerous cells and genetic alterations using samples of the blood or cerebrospinal fluid. This considerably improves the accuracy and speed of a given cancer diagnosis: physicians can make decisions affecting treatment faster and in a more targeted manner, factors which boost the patients’ prospects and the quality of their lives. Scherer’s study shows that circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) can be used as a non-invasive biomarker for cancerous diseases within the CNS. With most patients, the presence of ctDNA in the blood and in cerebrospinal fluid is verifiable prior to treatment. Patients showing higher levels of ctDNA had poorer survival rates, which underscores the significance of this technology for the precise assessment of the disease’s progression and for adapting the therapy. Apart from this, Scherer’s team developed a model that is able to reliably identify CNS lymphomas on the basis of the ctDNA mutational signature by means of artificial intelligence. 

Dr. Ria Schönauer, Dept. of Medicine, specializing in Nephrology and Medical Intensive Care (Internal), Charité – University Hospital Berlin, Paper:

The work performed by Dr. Ria Schönauer bridges the gap between diagnosis and therapy. Her publication “Sex, Genotype, and Liver Volume Progression as Risk of Hospitalization Determinants in Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Liver Disease,” which appeared in the specialized journal Gastroenterology and has now been awarded a prize by EKFS, shows how targeted therapies can be developed for polycystic liver disease (ADPLD). ADPLD is a rare hereditary disorder in which the liver becomes permeated with cysts. This can lead to medical conditions such as a sense of fullness, nausea, upper abdominal pain and muscular atrophy. In severe cases, a liver transplantation may be necessary. Within the scope of an international study Schönauer has developed assessment criteria in her workgroup to be better able to predict the prognosis for this disease and make substantiated decisions regarding the treatment thereof. The research scientists designate factors that influence the probability of being admitted to a hospital. They include the female gender, age-related liver volume and specific genetic changes. Schönauer’s findings enable a better assessment of the disease’s progress along with the development of personalized therapies which slow down the way the disease advances and improve the quality of life for those affected. 

Dr. Dr. Lukas Bunse, Neurological Department, UMM University Medical Centre Mannheim, Paper:

As is the case with the work done by PD Dr. Scherer, genetic analyses in the area of personalized medicine play an essential role for Dr. Dr. Lukas Bunse, too. Bunse is receiving the Publication Prize for his scientific paper “MHC class II-restricted antigen presentation is required to prevent dysfunction of cytotoxic T cells by blood-borne myeloids in brain tumors,” published in the specialized journal Cancer Cell. In the paper he shows how so-called macrophages, scavenger cells migrating out of the bloodstream, are able to combat brain tumors. Bunse’s team established that the immune system plays a key role during the emergence and treatment of brain tumors. And that microphage activity is particularly important: they present fragments of tumor cells to T cells, a type of white blood cell equally migrating out of the bloodstream, and by doing so activate the T cells to combat tumor cells. Especially cytotoxic T cells, also termed killer T cells, are reliant on this kind of local activation. A specific protein named MHCII is decisive thereby: without MHCII the killer T cells lose their ability to take action against tumors. The team around Bunse has also decoded the way in which MHCII supports the killer T cells. On the basis of this finding, Bunse’s prizewinning publication now opens up new approaches to immunotherapies that support and sustain T cell activity in brain tumors.

PD Dr. Roman Sankowski, Institute for Neuropathology, University Medical Center Freiburg, Paper:

Yet another breakthrough in neurology stems from PD Dr. Roman Sankowski. Brain tumors form the core focus of his publication “Multiomic spatial landscape of innate immune cells at human central nervous system borders.” Sankowski equally found the key to new therapeutic approaches within the immune system. In his paper published in the journal nature medicine he demonstrates how the immune system is involved in the pathology of this disease. And while doing so, his finding that immune cells in the brain can be regenerated by means of blood cells is nothing less than remarkable. The assumption until now was that they regenerate themselves. Sankowski’s discovery opens up new possibilities to replace damaged or defective immune cells with healthy, functioning cells or to enhance their function. Particularly patients with brain tumors might benefit from this. The study honored with the EKFS Publication Prize supplies a detailed map of the different immune cells in healthy brains and in brains afflicted with tumors. The publication furthermore designates molecular targets which can be utilized in future therapies toward the prevention and treatment of brain diseases and disorders.

Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung (EKFS) – Advancing research. Helping people.
Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung is a non-profit foundation dedicated to the funding and advancement of medical research and the support of humanitarian projects. To date the foundation has funded around 2,600 projects. With an annual funding volume currently amounting to over 70 million euros it is the largest foundation in Germany that actively funds and supports medicine. You can find more information at:

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