Translational cancer research and experimental cancer therapy

Dieter Saur

Dieter Saur studied medicine in Munich and obtained his doctorate in gastroenterology at TUM’s university hospital, graduating summa cum laude and winning TUM’s doctoral award. His doctoral thesis and postdoctoral qualification (2006) investigated neuronal control of the intestine, i.e. “brain-gut” function. A clinician and a researcher in one person, Saur established a new focus on tumor diseases of the gastrointestinal tract in 2002. The use of new imaging procedures for early detection of gastrointestinal tumors and the development of novel therapeutic strategies for tumor subtypes are key topics of his research. A consultant of internal medicine specializing in gastroenterology since 2007, Chair of Translational Cancer Research since 2017 and Director of the Institute of Experimental Cancer Therapy since 2018, Saur has accumulated a range of awards and grants along the way – most recently the prestigious Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) and the German Cancer Award for his work in pancreatic cancer.


Research Focus

We are studying fundamental biologically and clinically relevant aspects of cancer: how it develops, progresses, spreads to distant sites, and why it becomes resistant to anti-cancer therapies.

Cancer arises from a complex and heterogeneous interaction of driver mutations that can affect hundreds of genes. The function of most of these genes, their interplay and how we can exploit cancer specific dependencies for therapy is largely unknown.

To understand the complexity of this disease, we are analyzing patient samples, model cancer subtypes in vitro and at the organismal level by genetic engineering. Our lab is developing and deploying innovative genetic tools, such as dual and triple recombinase systems, organoids as well as microscopy to understand the cross-talk of cells in tumors with different genetic makeups.

We perform in vitro studies, such as large-scale drug and genetic screens, and follow in vivo approaches to uncover the interaction of tumor cells with their environment. For example, we are exploring the complex communication between cancer cells and their neighbors to dissect how they escape immune attack and suppress the immune system or prevent chemotherapy from working. This allows us to identify novel vulnerabilities for cancer therapy and investigate the mechanisms that make cancer resistant to therapy.

Identifying therapeutic vulnerabilities, understanding metastasis and tackling primary treatment failure are among the most challenging problems in oncology. Our work explores new ways to target solid tumors more efficiently and translate these finding to clinical trials to improve the prognosis of cancer patients.

Our Mission: Understanding the biology of cancer to uncover therapeutic vulnerabilities.

Key Awards

  • German Cancer Award(2019)
  • DKTK W3 Professorship(2017)
  • ERC Consolidator Grant Awardee, European Research Council(2015)
  • Honorary Fellow and Member of the TUM Institute for Advanced Studies(2015)
  • Martin-Wienbeck-Award for Translational Science(2014)
  • AIO Translational Cancer Research Award, Berlin(2013)
  • “Rising Star” award of the United European Gastroenterology Federation (UEGF)(2006)
  • Werner-Creutzfeld-Research-Award (DGVS)(2004)

Selected Publications

  • Mueller S, Engleitner T, Maresch R, Zukowska M, Lange S, Kaltenbacher T, Konukiewitz B, Öllinger R, Zwiebel M, Strong A, Yen HY, Banerjee R, Louzada S, Fu B, Seidler B, Götzfried J, Schuck K, Hassan Z, Arbeiter A, Schönhuber N, Klein S, Veltkamp C, Friedrich M, Rad L, Barenboim M, Ziegenhain C, Hess J, Dovey OM, Eser S, Parekh S, Constantino-Casas F, de la Rosa J, Sierra MI, Fraga M, Mayerle J, Klöppel G, Cadiñanos J, Liu P, Vassiliou G, Weichert W, Steiger K, Enard W, Schmid RM, Yang F, Unger K, Schneider G, Varela I, Bradley A, Saur D*, Rad R* (2018). Evolutionary routes and KRAS dosage define pancreatic cancer phenotypes. Nature 554:62-68.
  • Schneider G, Schmidt-Supprian M, Rad R, Saur D (2017). Tissue-specific tumorigenesis: context matters. Nat Rev Cancer 17, 239-253.
  • Maresch, R., Mueller, S., Veltkamp, C., Ollinger, R., Friedrich, M., Heid, I., Steiger, K., Weber, J., Engleitner, T., Barenboim, M., Klein S, Louzada S, Banerjee R, Strong A, Stauber T, Gross N, Geumann U, Lange S, Ringelhan M, Varela I, Unger K, Yang F, Schmid RM, Vassiliou GS, Braren R, Schneider G, Heikenwalder M, Bradley A, Saur D*, Rad, R.* (2016). Multiplexed pancreatic genome engineering and cancer induction by transfection-based CRISPR/Cas9 delivery in mice. Nat Commun 7, 10770.
  • Schönhuber N, Seidler B, Schuck K, Veltkamp C, Schachtler C, Zukowska M, Eser S, Feyerabend TB, Paul MC, Eser P, Klein S, Lowy AM, Banerjee R, Yang F, Lee CL, Moding EJ, Kirsch DG, Scheideler A, Alessi DR, Varela I, Bradley A, Kind A, Schnieke AE, Rodewald HR, Rad R, Schmid RM, Schneider G, Saur D (2014). A next-generation dual-recombinase system for time- and host-specific targeting of pancreatic cancer. Nat Med 20, 1340-7.
  • Eser S, Reiff N, Messer M, Seidler B, Gottschalk K, Dobler M, Hieber M, Arbeiter A, Klein S, Kong B, Michalski CW, Schlitter AM, Esposito I, Kind AJ, Rad L, Schnieke AE, Baccarini M, Alessi DR, Rad R, Schmid RM, Schneider G, Saur D (2013). Selective requirement of PI3K/PDK1 signaling for Kras oncogene-driven pancreatic cell plasticity and cancer. Cancer Cell 23, 406-20.
  • Rad R, Cadiñanos J, Rad L, Strong A, Varela I, Krieg L, Constantino-Casas F, Eser S, Hieber M, Seidler B, Price S, Hoffman G, Fraga MF, Calvanese V, Schneider G, Yusa K, Grove C, Wang W, Schmid RM, McDermott U, Kirchner T, Liu P, Vassiliou G, Saur D*, Bradley A* (2013). A genetic progression model of BrafV600E-induced intestinal tumourigenesis reveals targets for therapeutic intervention. Cancer Cell 24, 15-29.
  • Klein S, Seidler B, Kettenberger A, Sibaev A, Rohn M, Feil R, Allescher HD, Vanderwinden JM, Hofmann F, Schemann M, Rad R, Storr MA, Schmid RM, Schneider G, Saur D (2013). Interstitial cells of Cajal integrate excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission with intestinal slow-wave activity. Nature Commun. 4:1630.
  • von Werder A, Seidler B, Schmid RM, Schneider G, Saur D (2012). Production of avian retroviruses and tissue-specific somatic retroviral gene transfer in vivo using the RCAS/TVA system. Nature Protoc. 7, 1167-83.
  • Eser S, Messer M, Eser P, von Werder A, Seidler B, Bajbouj M, Vogelmann R, Meining A, von Burstin J, Algül H, Pagel P, Schnieke AE, Esposito I, Schmid RM, Schneider G, Saur D (2011). In vivo diagnosis of murine pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia and early-stage pancreatic cancer by molecular imaging. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 108, 9945-50.
  • Seidler, B., Schmidt, A., Mayr, U., Nakhai, H., Schmid, R. M., Schneider, G., and Saur, D. (2008). A Cre-loxP-based mouse model for conditional somatic gene expression and knockdown in vivo by using avian retroviral vectors. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105, 10137-10142.