Wolfgang Wilmanns Foundation: Initiatives for research and practice in tumor treatment

29 Mar 2023

The foundation funds scientists who conduct research into tumors. It also sponsors projects with patients.

The Wolfgang Wilmanns Foundation for the support of leukemia and tumor research at Munich’s universities and at the Munich Tumor Center (TZM) was established in 1988 by the professor of the same name. The not-for-profit foundation awards prizes to young researchers for outstanding performance in this area. In addition, it supports numerous initiatives in the fields of nutrition, complementary medicine and psycho-oncology for tumor patients.

Research with concrete applications in clinical practice

Prof. Volkmar Nüssler | © privat

“Oncologists are inspired by the dream of healing tumors,” says Professor Volkmar Nüssler, long-standing Executive Coordinator of the Munich Tumor Center (TZM) and central point of contact at the Wolfgang Wilmanns Foundation. Professor Wolfgang Wilmanns, who devoted his scientific work to tumor research until his death in 2003, was no exception: “I got to know him when I was a young assistant physician,” Nüssler recalls. Wilmanns conducted research into biochemical processes that led to new methods for the treatment of leukemia.

“As a doctor he was deeply concerned about patients’ wellbeing,” says Nüssler notes, who has taken over and continues to run the Wolfgang Wilmanns Foundation. “For him, it was always important to look after the whole person. He took a lot of time to talk and listen to patients, sought to understand their hopes and fears – and attached great importance to having his research findings quickly adopted in clinical practice for the direct benefit of patients.”

“Doctor, what can I do?”

Nüssler tells us there was one question Wilmanns heard almost every day: “Doctor, what I can I myself do?” Nüssler himself is frequently confronted by the same issue: “The patients want to know what part they can play in staying healthy or returning to good health.”

Sufferers are hungry for information. To satisfy this demand, Nüssler worked with the Wolfgang Wilmanns Foundation to launch what became known as ‘Patients’ Day’, for instance, as well as providing free nutritional advice. “Anyone can go there for advice on how healthy, tasty nutrition can, for example, reduce the risk of recurrence after a tumor has been treated,” Nüssler explains.

Nutrition, complementary medicine and psycho-oncology

© Wolfgang-Wilmanns-Stiftung

In line with Wolfgang Wilmanns’ ethos, the foundation wants to have an impact on patient education – and to encourage those affected. Alongside diagnostic and therapeutic issues, Nüssler sees nutrition, exercise, psycho-oncology and complementary medicine as some of the most important topics for people who have (or have recovered from) tumors. Back in 2010, Nüssler himself, in cooperation with Bayerische Krebsgesellschaft (the Bavarian Cancer Association), set up a psycho-oncological/psychosocial advisory unit for cancer patients and their relatives.

“These are areas where people definitely have an influence on their health,” the tumor specialist asserts. Aware of this, the foundation will in future play a proactive role in tumor prevention in general and nutrition in particular.
Assisted by funds from the Wolfgang Wilmanns Foundation, Nüssler has, for example, initiated development of the HealthFood cooking app for tumor patients. In collaboration with the Food & Health association, he is also committed to improving the quality of food provided in canteens. “Poor diets are the number one cause of death today,” Nüssler stresses. His insights into and recommendations for preventing diseases were published by Westend Verlag in January 2023 in a book entitled “Die beste Medizin kommt aus der Küche“ (“The Best Medicine Comes out of the Kitchen”). The book, which targets both patients and healthy individuals, illustrates how nutrition can help people protect not only their own health but also that of our planet.

Support for young researchers

Besides educating patients, the Wolfgang Wilmanns Foundation is primarily dedicated to getting budding scientists excited about tumor and leukemia research. “That, too, was tremendously important to Wolfgang Wilmanns throughout his career,” Nüssler states.

The foundation thus funds psycho-oncological studies and is supporting the development of a psycho-oncology-themed network, as well as providing backing for translational cancer research. A central element of its research support is the award of Wolfgang Wilmanns Foundation prizes, which have been presented at the annual ImmunoTherapy of Cancer Conference (iTOC) since 2021.

Nüssler, the co-initiator of this conference, organized the first three events in Munich and brought it back to Munich three years ago. “Our hope is that the prizes, each endowed with up to a thousand euros, will help motivate young colleagues. Two of our prizewinners from this year and last – Christian Schmidl from Regensburg and Ikuan Sam from Paris – published their papers prominently as lead author and last author respectively,” Nüssler says. “That is a success story Wolgang Wilmanns would have been thrilled to witness.”

Papers published by the foundation’s latest prizewinners

Prizewinner Dr. Christian Schmidl (Leibniz Institute for Immunotherapy) et al investigated how exhaustion is regulated in tumor-infiltrating T-cells and were the first to describe new exhaustion mechanisms:
Dania Riegel and Christian Schmidl: Integrated single-cell profiling dissects cell-state-specific enhancer landscapes of human tumor-infiltrating CD8+ T cells. In: Molecular Cell 2023, doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2022.12.029

Prizewinner Ikuan Sam (Université Paris Cité) et al studied CD27 as a biomarker for T-cell functionality in renal cell tumors and positioned it as a surrogate for immunotherapy responses:

Nadine Benhamouda, Ikuan Sam: Plasma CD27, a Surrogate of the Intratumoral CD27-CD70 Interaction, Correlates with Immunotherapy Resistance in Renal Cell Carcinoma: In: Clinical Cancer Research 2022, doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-22-0905

More information about the foundation

Wolfgang Wilmanns Foundation: See the foundation’s website

iTOC conference website featuring the Wilmanns Poster Awards

More details of foundations and endowments at LMU

Stiftungen@LMU is an LMU service provider around the topics of foundations, endowments and donations.

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