Karl Freudenberg Prize 2023: Cancer research

Karl Freudenberg Prize for molecular pharmacist Dr. Sylvain Delaunay: A new strategy against the spread of cancer cells

How do cancer cells form metastases? What role do the mitochondria in the cells play in this process? How can the development of metastases be prevented with this knowledge?

These are the questions explored by Dr. Sylvain Delaunay, whose scientific work reveals a new strategy for preventing the spread of cancer cells. In his study, he shows that the metastasis of head and neck cancer can be reduced by inhibiting metabolic changes in the mitochondria. This cancer arises from the mouth, larynx and pharynx. It is diagnosed in approximately 900.000 patients every year in world, and 50% will die after 5 years because of cancer metastasis.

This shows that new strategies are required to contain cancer development. With drugs already approved on the market but for a different disease, the scientist was able to stop the development of lymph node metastases from primary tumours. The scientist, who was born in Liège, Belgium, has now received the prestigious Karl Freudenberg Prize for his scientific work at the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences.


At first I was surprised, then I was very honored. The prize shows that I am on the right track.

Dr. Sylvain Delaunay

"At first I was surprised, then I was very honored. The prize shows that I am on the right track," says Sylvain Delaunay. "As a scientist, we spend most of our time in the lab, performing experiments or reading studies. If it doesn’t work, we do one step back, develop a new hypothesis and try to prove it again. This award is a recognition for five years of work on this project." He says he wants to stay in research and develop an even deeper understanding of the discovered connections.

He is currently working as a postdoc at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg (DKFZ), where he is researching changes in RNA inside the mitochondria, the organelles needed for a cell's energy supply.

He studied pharmacy in Liege in Belgium, where he completed his doctorate in pharmaceutical science in 2016 and did postdoctoral stays in Barcelona and Cambridge.