By John Spinnato - DKMS US CEO
As we celebrate World Science Day at DKMS, it is fitting to acknowledge the industry-changing discoveries in the fields of stem cell therapy and bone marrow transplantation – the key weapons in our fight against blood cancer. The John Hansen Research Grant, renamed this year from the Mechtild Harf Research Grant, brings forth the most promising conclusions of focused research on these topics, and is well worth considering as a tribute to a dedicated scientist and a catalyst for DKMS’ impact.
The DKMS Foundation for Giving Life introduced the Mechtild Harf Research Grant in 2015. The purpose of the grant is to encourage young scientists with relevant doctoral degrees to promote progress in areas integral to DKMS’ work: matching donors with patients and carrying out the donation/follow-up process. Such topics include transplant immunology, stem cell donation, cell manufacturing, and diagnostic and therapeutic strategies. Winning projects receive $270,000, to be used over 3 years for a more holistic study of the topics presented.
In 2019, the name of the scholarship was changed to the John Hansen Research Grant, in honor of the renowned oncologist and immunologist who was dedicated member of the DKMS Foundation of Giving Life Board and the DKMS Medical Council. Dr. Hansen made significant discoveries relating to the understanding of which HLA characteristics are necessarily matched for a successful donation, free from post procedural complications like Graft versus Host disease (when host cells attack the newly transplanted cells). He was known as someone that pursued difficult questions out of deep concern for patients; these values define the grant’s objective and significance.
This grant is core to what we do at DKMS because it profoundly addresses the needs of our patients. By engaging pioneers in the field of blood disorders, it provides a platform for better understanding critical side-effects (such as Graft versus Host disease), thereby increasing confidence during the registry process and decreasing complications during the medical process. As the chairman of our international board, Marcel van den Brink, has said, “We do much more than just donor recruitment to serve our patients.” The scientific research facet of DKMS’ work is a behind-the-scenes but exceptionally valuable marker of credibility and driver of donation success rates. The result is that patients benefit from a larger and more diverse donor pool, a safer medical procedure, and a decreased possibility of the body’s rejection of the stem cell or bone marrow infusion.
The scope and quality of DKMS scientific work particularly struck me when I toured our laboratories in Dresden, Germany. Having previously worked in a similar type of industry in the pharmaceutical and commercial side, I immediately recognized that the facilities are state of the art—well-managed, technologically advanced, and meticulous. Even the freezer where samples are stored was impressively organized and maintained. It gives me such confidence to be a leader in an organization where the research team prioritizes every detail. Our donors and patients are in good hands.
At DKMS, it all goes back to saving lives. We are not just doing science for the fun of doing science, but to cultivate a more nuanced understanding of blood cancer’s complexity. I am incredibly grateful to the individuals driven to contribute their bright minds and expertise to the study of this impactful field. My hope is that awareness of this opportunity will encourage many to share their unique findings for the 2020 scholarship.