Interview with EACR Emeritus member Professor Ulrich Schneeweiss

We recently received an email from a longstanding EACR member, 97 year-old Professor Ulrich Schneeweiss. Professor Schneeweiss, who has been an EACR member for more than 40 years, was writing to tell us how he appreciated the EACR’s efforts to shine a light on how the COVID-19 crisis has affected cancer researchers in different ways.

We took this great opportunity to find out a bit more about Professor Schneeweiss’s career and history with the EACR.

Professor Schneeweiss spent 29 years from 1963 to 1992 working at the Institute for Cancer Research of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR in Berlin-Buch. He also participated in the first EACR Congress in Brussels in 1970, where his paper was read by title – attached below is a copy of his acceptance letter from the EACR’s General Secretary at the time.

It wasn’t until 1982 that Ulrich became a full member of the EACR, reflecting the historical structure of the Association as his membership application needed to be backed by current members of the EACR. He then attended the EACR Symposium on Molecular Interactions in Biological Systems in Berlin-Buch at the beginning of September 1986. He presented a poster titled “Immunological and Biochemical Aspects of Malignant Transformation and Cell Proliferation”.

We asked Ulrich a few questions abut his career and his membership with the EACR.

The most important prerequisite is enthusiasm about the research topic.

How did you join the field of cancer research?

In summer 1958, Dr. Ferdinand Schmidt (occupied with tumour-virology) visited me in my laboratory (Humboldt-University, Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology) requiring an immunologist to comply with his experimental task. Ferdinand had been working in the Institute of Biochemistry (Director Karl Lohmann), Research centre Berlin-Buch, German Academy of Sciences. This collaboration has led to a number of publications:

  • Schmidt F, Coutelle R, Schneeweiß U: Versuche zur immunologischen Charakterisierung von Desoxy- und Ribonukleinsäuren aus normaler Rattenleber, hepatozellulärem Lebercarcinom und dem Jensen-Sarkom der Ratte mit der Komplementbindungsreaktion. Archiv für Geschwulstforschung 14/1 (1958) 68-75
  • Schmidt F, Liß E, Coutelle R, Schneeweiß U, Langen P: Versuche zur Immunologie von Nukleinsäuren und Nukleoproteiden aus normalen und malignen Geweben. In: Krebsforschung und Krebsbekämpfung. Hg. Von Martius H, Hartl H. München: Urban & Schwarzenberg (1959) 29-39
  • Schneeweiß U, Liß E, Langen P, Schmidt F: Über Versuche zur immunologischen Abgrenzung von Desoxyribonukleoproteiden aus einem transplantablen Nierencarcinom des Goldhamsters und aus normaler Goldhamsterniere. Z. für Krebforschung 63 (1960) 345-350

Who inspired you?

I was inspired as an immunologist by the Sen. Surgical Oncologist Professor Dr. Hans Gummel (Director of the Robert-Rössle-Clinic and Institute of Cancer Research Berlin-Buch) to join the research group of Professor Gunther Wittig (Surgical Oncologist). In 1961, Gunther Wittig acquainted me with the paper by Otto Warburg (Warburg O: Über die facultative Anaerobiose der Krebszellen und ihre Anwendung auf die Chemotherapie. Münch. med. Wochenschr. 103 (1961) 2504-2506).

In this paper Otto Warburg refers to his theory of the facultative anaerobiosis as a fundamental property of tumour energy metabolism as demonstrated by Möse and Möse 1959 with oncolytic Clostridia (Möse JR and Möse G: Onkolyseversuche mit apathogenen, anaeroben Sporenbildnern am Ehrlich-Tumor der Maus. Z. Krebsforschung 63 (1959) 63-74) as well as by Malmgren and Flanigan with toxic Tetanus Clostridia (Malmgren RA and Flanigan CC: Localization of the vegetative form of Clostridium tetani in mouse tumors following intravenous spore administration. Cancer Res 15 (1955) 473-478).

What are you most proud of in your career?

With the development of a quantitative mouse tumor cells-tetanus spores test I was able to discover that the growth of multiplying Tetanus Clostridia was strictly dependent on the propagation of proliferating tumour cell clones.

When did you first come across the EACR?

My first contact with EACR was my participation in the Foundation Congress of EACR 1970 in Brussels. In this congress, active immunotherapy of leukemia in children with BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) was topical, especially through the contributions of the French working group of Georges Mathé in Villejuif (Mathé G: Cancer active immunotherapy. Immunoprophylaxis and immunorestoration. An introduction. Recent Results Cancer Res. 55 (1976) 1-402; Mathé G: Human models for cancer active immunotherapy. Biomedicine (1977) 1-5).

At the beginning of your research, it is essential to have an eminently good scientist for advice and encouragement.

How has cancer research changed in your 40 years as a member?

Research has changed immensely, on the one hand through the development of molecular biology investigation techniques. Furthermore the discovery of the monoclonal antibodies has gradually inaugurated both the specific immunotherapy and immunodiagnosis of cancer. On the other hand, cancer diagnostics has been changed and improved in many ways due to novel imaging techniques.

What advice do you have for young researchers who are at the start of their careers?

The most important prerequisite is enthusiasm about the research topic. If research funding allows, a subject should be dealt with in detail if possible. This requires time and perseverance. At the beginning of your research, it is essential to have an eminently good scientist for advice and encouragement.


We would like to thank Professor Schneeweiss and Eva-Maria Fabricius for taking the time to answer our questions, and for the support he has given to the EACR throughout the years.