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Clinical dermatology award for Lukas Leiendecker

19 Dec 2022

The Austrian Society for Dermatology and Venereology presents the yearly Science Award to scientists whose recent publications answer far-reaching questions in dermatological research. Lukas Leiendecker, PhD student in the lab of Anna Obenauf, receives this year’s award for his work on Digital Papillary Adenocarcinoma and other HPV-driven cancers, published earlier this year in the journal Cancer Discovery.

Viruses play a role in about 10 percent of all human cancers. For example, Human Papillomaviruses or HPV are known to cause cervical and head and neck cancers. The skin is constantly exposed to viral pathogens, but whether those viruses are involved in skin cancers has been a mystery. Lukas Leiendecker, a student in the Vienna BioCenter PhD Program, and his co-authors investigated the genomes of rare skin cancers to find out if their genetic basis was viral. They analysed more than 200 skin tumours and found that all Digital Papillary Adenocarcinoma tumour samples contained DNA sequences originating from HPV42, a virus so far considered to be harmless. The study, led by the lab of Anna Obenauf, subsequently described the molecular pathways triggered by HPV42 in Digital Papillary Adenocarcinoma.

Understanding the molecular basis of a patient’s cancer can be crucial for diagnosis and therapy – for instance, the distinction between virus-driven and mutation-driven cancers can determine how aggressive the treatment needs to be. After analysing the gene expression data in 11,000 cancer samples, the researchers pinpointed a molecular signature of HPV-driven cancers. With the expression data of only two genes, CDKN2A/p16 and SYCP2, HPV-driven cancers can be identified with high accuracy. This could have important implications for clinicians, cancer patients, and even future therapies that utilise those signature genes as targets.

These findings were published in October 2022 in Cancer Discovery. The Austrian Society for Dermatology and Venereology recognises the weight of this publication, and presented Lukas Leiendecker with this year’s Science Award, which is endowed with 6000 Euros, sponsored by Sanofi Genzyme.

“I’m really excited to see our results applied in a clinical setting. The genes that we identified have a predictive value and specific expression in HPV-driven cancers that could make them good targets for immunotherapies,” says Lukas Leiendecker. “The Science Award recognises my doctoral work, but also the contributions of many colleagues – I am very grateful for the collaborations that made this study a success.”

Further reading

Oncogenic virus: Scientists show how HPV causes skin cancer

Genomics and artificial intelligence to empower cancer diagnostics

Research with Anna Obenauf