World Cancer Day

The role of ZEISS in fighting cancer

Awareness and knowledge about cancer can help to
detect and treat a possible disease at an early stage.
On the occasion of World Cancer Day on February 4,
ZEISS would like to provide information about advances
in cancer research and treatment options.

CAR T cell killing cancerous target cell, imaged with ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7.
Courtesy of Ms. Kylie Luong, Associate Prof Misty Jenkins, Dr. Niall Geoghegan, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne, Australia.
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells are genetically engineered immune cells that find and destroy cancer cells. Treatments based on this approach have shown considerable promise for hematologic malignancies. ZEISS microscopes enable scientists to study the behavior of these cells in living samples.

Did you know that…

  • 10M

    … cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020?1

  • 30 - 50

    … between 30 and 50% of cancer cases could actually be preventable by steering clear of the risk factors?1

  • 50%

    … at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services?2

A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank shows that at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services. With the "Close the Care Gap" campaign, World Cancer Day draws awareness to the fact that information about cancer, early detection and the possibility of rapid treatment are extremely important. In addition, all affected people should be entitled to the same care and treatment options.

People use the word “cancer” to refer to a whole range of diseases. Cancer actually manifests when irreparable mutations occur in sections of our genetic material. This results in uncontrollable cell growth that can wreak havoc on the body. However, advances in research have enabled enhanced early detection and diagnosis, as well as brand-new treatment methods – and this has certainly benefited patients.

Basic research with microscopes from ZEISS

In cancer research, scientists often use microscopes to understand how healthy cells are different to cancer cells. Live cell imaging helps to monitor the dynamic processes in the cell cycle and is often used in cell or animal models. Autofluorescence or fluorescent labels help to distinguish tumor cells and tissue from healthy cells. Such basic research is the very foundation for the development of novel diagnosis, treatment, and cures.

The most groundbreaking research using microscopes in this area has even been awarded a Nobel Prize. Sir Paul M. Nurse, Leland H. Hartwell and Timothy Hunt were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2001. Their fundamental discoveries regarding the control of the cell cycle have a great impact on all aspects of cell growth. Defects in cell cycle control may lead to the type of chromosome alterations seen in cancer cells. In the long term, this can open new possibilities for cancer treatment. Harald zur Hausen received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2008. He revealed that a virus infection can cause cervical cancer – contrary to prevailing doctrines. His discovery was a starting point to successful construction of biosynthetic preventive vaccines against this carcinoma.

Diagnosis and therapy with medical technology from ZEISS

ZEISS Medical Technology may help to support the resection of brain tumors in the future.

When neurosurgeons describe the challenge of surgically removing a tumor, they liken it to remove a piece of butter from a tub of margarine. Visualization is not the only thing that can be decisive in a resection, but also immediate irradiation of the tumor bed to prevent regrowth of the tumor from any residual tumor cells. The ZEISS Tumor Workflow offers multidisciplinary teams from neurosurgery, neuropathology and radiation oncology, new possibilities in brain tumor treatment, by enabling the visualization of fluorescence-stained structures, tissue structures in situ and local irradiation of the tumor cavity directly after resection.

Early signs of an eye disease, e.g. ocular tumors, are often subtle and frequently occur in the outermost periphery of the retina. Ultra-widefield fundus imaging system provides doctors the ability to see the retina in ultra-widefield high definition color, providing a larger and more comprehensive image. Slight discoloration or changes in the retina may be early signs of eye disease such as diabetic retinopathy, AMD or ocular cancer.

  • World Cancer Day – History of cancer treatment

    For some time past, innovations and advances in the development of medicines and; diagnostic methods have resulted in improvements with regard to early cancer detection and therapy. Furthermore, the efficacy and tolerability of these cancer treatments have been enhanced – here’s an overview.

  • 17th century
    17th century

    Wilhelm Fabry and Johann Scultetus

    In the 17th century, Wilhelm Fabry (von Hilden) (1560–1634), a major German surgeon of his time and the founder of scientific surgery, begins extracting enlarged lymph nodes during breast surgeries, while Johann Scultetus (1595–1645) focuses on radical mastectomies.

  • 1895

    First radiation

    While conducting experiments in 1895, physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovers the rays that now bear his name (Röntgen is the German word for X-rays). Doctors begin X-raying their patients to detect bone fractures and lung shadows – and notice the effects that rays have on rapidly growing cancer tissue. Just one year later, the first patient is X-rayed – a breast cancer sufferer in the USA. This marks the start of radiooncology.

  • 1896

    Dr. Thomas Beatson

    Dr. Thomas Beatson discovers the stimulating effects of estrogen on breast tumors before the hormone itself is even discovered. His work paves the way for the modern application of hormones and analogues (e.g. Tamoxifen, Taxol) in breast cancer treatment and prevention.

  • 1949


    The PAP test created for early cytological detection, based on findings by Dr. George Papanicolaou, opens doors for the early detection of cervical cancer. In West Germany, the incidence of the disease falls by over 60% following the launch of the cytological smear.

  • 1959

    First bone marrow transplant

    After an accident at a nuclear power plant, Georges Mathé performs the first successful bone marrow transplant on physicists who have fallen victim to the harmful radiation. Just 5 years later, Mathé treats the first leukemia patients.

  • 1998

    Approval of the first antibody

    The approval of the first antibody to treat follicular lymphomas marks a new chapter in the fight against lymph node cancer. Alongside radiation therapy and chemotherapy, antibody therapy has been a standard treatment ever since – for lymphomas as well as for breast and colon cancer.

  • 2001
    Nobel Prize for Sir Paul M. Nurse, Leland H. Hartwell and Timothy Hunt

    Groundbreaking cancer research using microscopes: Sir Paul M. Nurse, Leland H. Hartwell and Timothy Hunt are awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Their discoveries on controlling the cell cycle make a big impact on all aspects of cell growth. In the long term, this can open up whole new possibilities in cancer treatment.

  • 2008

    Harald zur Hausen

    Harald zur Hausen receives the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discovery that cervical cancer is triggered by viral infections. His research enables the development of a vaccine against the third most common type of cancer among women.

  • 2018

    Nobel Prize for James Allison and Tasuku Honjo

    In 2018, doctors James Allison and Tasuku Honjo receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine for developing immune-based cancer therapies – a milestone in the fight against cancer. They discover that the immune system is capable of attacking cancer cells – provided that the immune cells release their own brakes.

  • 2019

    Nobel Prize in Medicine for Peter Ratcliffe, William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza

    The three researchers from the UK and the US have discovered how molecular mechanisms respond to oxygen levels to regulate the activity of genes, which in turn alter metabolism. Oxygen regulation plays a key role in a wide range of diseases. In tumors, the oxygen regulation system influences the proliferation of cancer cells. Scientific institutions and pharmaceutical companies are therefore working to develop drugs that can activate or block the oxygen regulation system.

  • 2020

    Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna

    Researchers managed to change the genetic makeup of animals, plants and microorganisms with great precision using the CRISPR/Cas technology, commonly referred to as "gene scissors". The Nobel Prize Committee writes that this has revolutionized the life sciences, helped advance cancer therapies, and may help to cure hereditary diseases.

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