Heinrich-Heine-Universität

Düsseldorf, Germany
Professor Emeritus, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I, Faculty of Medicine
Senior Scientist, Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine

Research

Dr. Helmut Sies spent his career studying the role of micronutrients in cancer prevention and specifically focused on carotenoids and flavonoids.

He discovered that lycopene – a carotenoid and antioxidant found in tomatoes and carrots – can reduce the damaging effects of oxygen produced by our body’s essential metabolic processes and has strong skin cancer prevention effects. His research also illustrated how flavonoids (found in cocoa products) can prevent skin damage caused by ultraviolet radiation, improve blood vessel function and reduce cardiovascular risk.

Dr. Sies’ recent research was focused on selenium, a trace metal found in foods such as certain nuts, seafood and organ meats that is essential for good health. Selenium is required to repair oxidative damage in key antioxidant enzymes called seleno proteins. Dr. Sies discovered that not only are seleno proteins strongly decreased in colon cancer tumor cells, but they are also strongly expressed by immune cells in the stomach and gastro-intestinal tract. Moreover, he found that dietary selenium compounds stimulate colon cells to produce seleno proteins. That means that ingested food could provide a potential mechanism for how selenium supports immune health and cancer prevention.

In 1985, Dr. Sies established the concept of oxidative stress. He found that an imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants in favor of the oxidant leads to a redox signaling and control disruption and can cause molecular damage. Click here for Dr. Sies’ latest Annual Review article on oxidative stress.

Additionally, during his career, Dr. Sies studied essential fatty acids that can prevent inflammation and cellular signaling pathways in cancer development, and looked at the role of nitric oxide in cancer and heart disease-related events.

Bio

Helmut Sies , M.D., grew up in northern Germany, where the natural environment instilled in him a fascination with science and discovery. At the age of 17, he traveled to a small town near Cincinnati, Ohio as part of a student exchange program and he lived with a physician whose dedication to medicine had a profound impact upon him. Upon returning to Germany, he graduated from Jakobson-Schule in Seesen in 1961. In 1967, he completed his M.D. certification in Munich.

Dr. Sies served as Professor and Chairman at the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Heinrich-Heine-University Dusseldorf, Germany. He was President of the NRW Academy of Sciences and Arts, Chairman of the Gordon Research Conference on Carotenoids, President of the Society for Free Radical Research International, Vice-President of the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meetings and a member of the German National Academy of Sciences.

Throughout his career, he received numerous honors and awards, including an Honorary Ph.D. degree from the University of Buenos Aires and an Honorary M.D. from the Universidad de la República, Montevideo. He was awarded the FEBS Anniversary Prize (1978), the Ernst-Jung-Prize for Medicine (1988), the Claudius-Galenus-Prize (1990), the Werner-Heisenberg-Medal of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (1999), the Linus Pauling Institute Prize for Health Research (2013) and the Trevor Slater Award of the Society for Free Radical Research International (2014).

Dr. Sies published more than 600 original research papers and book chapters about nutrition, antioxidants, cancer prevention and human health. NFCR funded Dr. Sies’ research for more than 30 years, until his retirement in 2016.

Helmut Sies, M.D.

Areas of Focus

Cancer Types

Years of NFCR Funding

1983 – 2016

Related Content

Therapeutic Vaccines Showed Long-term Anti-Cancer Effects for Melanoma

When people hear the word “vaccine”, they often think about vaccine’s preventive function that protects people from getting infectious diseases such as flu, hepatitis or Covid-19.  It’s true that traditional vaccines are developed to prevent infectious diseases, but innovative scientists are developing therapeutic vaccines that can treat various non-infectious diseases, including several types of cancer, after patients have the diseases.  With the help of modern technologies, scientists are able to create personalized vaccines based on the information obtained from patient’s cancer tissues so that the vaccines can induce and amplify specific groups of T-cells existing in patient’s immune system and initiate a stronger and broader anti-cancer immune response to kill the cancer that present the neoantigens, the protein molecules only appeared in cancer cells. As normal cells don’t present the neoantigens, vaccines designed to target them could be used as effective cancer therapeutics. Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston are front runners in clinical development of personalized therapeutic vaccines against melanoma, a very dangerous type of skin cancer. Recently, they presented very promising results from their clinical trials on 8 melanoma patients treated with NeoVax, or “Personalized NeoAntigen Cancer Vaccine”, that targets up to 20 personal neoantigens per patient.  The clinical results showed that almost 4 years after the treatment with NeoVax, all patients were alive and six of them didn’t show detective evidence of active disease. Furthermore, the researchers found that the immune response of neoantigen-specific T-cell can still be detected 4 years after the vaccination, which demonstrated the long-term persistence of the T-cell based cancer immunity. From the results of laboratory tests, they also detected that the neoantigen-specific T-cells actually penetrated into the tumor tissue after the vaccination, suggesting the vaccine-induced tumor cell killing is working on the right track as designed. Personalized therapeutic vaccines are novel and effective treatment options for melanoma cancer patients. As the vaccine’s design and development are based on the genetic and molecular information obtained from the tumor tissues removed by biopsy procedures or surgeries, melanoma cancer patients who are scheduled for those medical procedures should ask their doctors about the eligibility to participate in such a clinical trial beforehand. If you feel the information is helpful, please sign up here and/or make your generous gift here so that we can continue to bring such information to you and keep you connected with us through our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring the progress of novel cancer research and cancer prevention tips. Additional Reads You May Enjoy: Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Be Proactive, Reduce Your Risk Screen Time: The Value of Medical Check-ups 3 Things to Know Before Getting the Covid-19 Vaccine Stay connected with us! Receive our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips and more. Sign up here.  Reference: Personal neoantigen vaccines induce persistent memory T cell responses and epitope spreading in patients with melanoma. Nature Medicine, 21 January (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-01206-4 An immunogenic personal neoantigen vaccine for patients with melanoma. Nature,547: 217–221 (2017). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28678778/

Coping With Cancer—It’s Different for Everyone

Everyone’s journey with cancer is different, also unique to them is the way in which they cope with the disease. Taking two late celebrities, Alex Trebek and Chadwick Boseman as an example, we can see the differences in how individuals deal with a cancer diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer may only rank at number nine and ten in terms of most commonly diagnosed cancers amongst men and women (respectively), but most Americans are well aware of the disease ever since Jeopardy host Alex Trebek was diagnosed last year. The deadly disease has a low five-year-survival rate at only 9%. Most Americans are well aware of the disease ever since the late Jeopardy host Alex Trebek was diagnosed in 2019 and sadly passed away in November 2020. Though undoubtedly a trying year for Trebek, his loved ones, and his fans, the game show host publicly battled his cancer with his return to Jeopardy in September 2020. A year-and-a-half after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Trebek became an inspiration for many affected by pancreatic cancer. Despite the side effects, which include fatigue, Trebek returned to the Jeopardy stage to do what he loved most. His passion for living life had his recently published memoir flying off the shelves. Appropriately titled ‘The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life’, the memoir explores Trebek’s entire life to date – including his childhood through to his life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the memoir is not a story specifically about his cancer journey, Trebek used his fame to bring awareness to pancreatic cancer. In partnership with the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition, Trebek participated in a worldwide awareness initiative wherein he encouraged the public to know the risk factors and the symptoms of the deadly disease. His fame sparked conversation about pancreatic cancer while showing the patients across the world that cancer does not define a person. While Trebek made great efforts to bring awareness to pancreatic cancer, some celebrities choose not to use their diagnosis to spearhead conversation. Actor Chadwick Boseman battled colon cancer before passing away in mid-2020. Unlike Trebek, he chose to keep his journey private. After his death, however, a wave of colon cancer awareness flooded the world. Both Trebek and Boseman are beloved by their fans; however the differences between their journeys with cancer highlight that, even as a celebrity, a cancer diagnosis is an extremely personal experience. For Trebek, raising awareness and talking about his difficult prognosis helped him cope with the news. Boseman found strength in continuing his life as normal, only discussing his cancer treatment with those closest to him. Trebek and Boseman are perfect and timely examples of how each person copes differently. There is no correct way to deal with a cancer diagnosis – whether a new diagnosis or an ongoing experience. Like many aspects of life, seeing someone else handle a situation differently can cause doubt with one’s own approach. However, as Trebek and Boseman nobly demonstrated, deciding whether to speak about a cancer diagnosis publicly is a personal choice. There is no right or wrong way for any patient to navigate such a decision. Each journey […]

Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Be Proactive, Reduce Your Risk

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, but it is also a very preventable illness. Understand your risk and find out what steps you can take to keep your skin healthy year-round. More than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day in the U.S. In fact, more people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every year than all other cancers combined. However, while skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country, it is also a very preventable illness. As we observe Skin Cancer Awareness Month this May, let’s take an in-depth look at the disease as well as the steps that individuals can take to help reduce their risk. Not All Skin Cancers are Created Equal While the term skin cancer is used to describe any disease in which cancer cells form in the skin, it is important to understand that there are several types of skin cancer, each characterized by different risk factors, symptoms, and treatments. Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are the most common types of skin cancer. These cancers develop in the squamous and basal cells of the skin, respectively, and are collectively referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancer. The National Cancer Institute notes that risk factors for nonmelanoma skin cancer include: Exposure to natural or artificial sunlight, including tanning beds, over a long period of time Fair complexion Actinic keratosis (rough, scaly patches of skin that develop after exposure to sunlight) Past treatment with radiation Medicines or medical conditions that suppress the immune system Exposure to arsenic Once diagnosed, nonmelanoma skin cancer can often be successfully treated using one of eight standard treatment options: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, immunotherapy, target therapy, chemical peel, or other drug therapy. Many celebrities have battled nonmelanoma skin cancer, including Melanie Griffith, William H. Macy, Anderson Cooper, and Hugh Jackman, who now uses his platform as a world-renowned actor to raise awareness about the disease. Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Although it accounts for less than one percent of skin cancer cases, it can be deadly if not detected and treated early. The National Cancer Institute has identified the following risk factors for melanoma: Exposure to natural or artificial sunlight, including tanning bed, over a long period of time Fair complexion History of blistering sunburns as a child or teenager Having several large or many small moles Having a family history of unusual moles or melanoma Health care providers often use a combination of the five standard treatment options to treat melanoma, depending on the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. New diagnostic and treatment options for both nonmelanoma skin cancer and melanoma are currently being studied by researchers around the world, including the National Foundation for Cancer Research’s (NFCR) own James P. Basilion, PhD, professor of radiology, biomedical engineering, and pathology at Case Western Reserve University, and Daniel Von Hoff, MD, physician-in-chief and distinguished professor at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. Know What to Look For and […]