Gutenberg Research Award 2015 goes to polymer chemist Kazunori Kataoka and theologian Kwok Pui Lan

Gutenberg Research College of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz honors internationally renowned researchers


The Gutenberg Research College (GRC) of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has granted the Gutenberg Research Award 2015 to the Japanese polymer chemist Professor Kazunori Kataoka and to the theologian Professor Kwok Pui Lan, who teaches in the USA. "Today we honor two research personalities from very different research fields, who have both vastly extended theoretical research in their field and contributed to the practical application of their insights," said Professor Matthias Neubert, Director of the GRC and head of the Theoretical High Energy Physics group at Mainz University, at the awards ceremony. Professor Kazunori Kataoka is considered the world's leading expert in the field of polymer-based nano-carriers for use in cancer therapy. Professor Kwok Pui Lan is one of the leading representatives of post-colonial feminist theology, who actively advocates the renewal of Christianity and the promotion of inter-religious dialogue. The Gutenberg Research Award comes with prize money of EUR 10,000.

Professor Kazunori Kataoka is one of the world's leading polymer chemists, having developed specific polymers for biomedical applications. His nano-transporters are remarkable as they are based on long-chain molecules, i.e., polymers, which are used for the targeted delivery of anticancer drugs to tumors and for the transport of genetic material in gene therapy. He is a pioneer of a new concept in which the drug is enclosed in micelles. These are aggregates of specially developed polymers. It is possible to specifically guide these nano-transporters to affected tissues or organs. For this purpose, they need to circulate in the blood for a relatively long time so that they eventually accumulate in tumor tissue. Several differently designed polymer micelles that Kataoka has developed for cancer therapy are currently in clinical trials in various countries, including the UK and France. Some of these polymer agents are close to actual application. This would confirm the ultimate breakthrough of this concept.

Professor Kazunori Kataoka has pursued his scientific career mainly in Tokyo, and he has received worldwide recognition and held several guest professorships at European universities. He is Professor in the Department of Materials Engineering at the University of Tokyo and member of numerous scientific societies in Japan and the USA. He has received the highly prestigious Humboldt Research Award for research in collaboration with members of the Mainz-based Collaborative Research Center (CRC) 1066 on "Nanodimensional polymer therapeutics for tumor therapy" and also the NIMS Award of the Japanese National Institute of Materials Science.

There are several areas in which Kataoka's work coincides with the research being conducted in Mainz with its long tradition of experimentation with self-organizing nano-structures based on polymers. Polymer-based medications and nano-transporters based on polymers are regarded as a core area of current polymer research. Corresponding strategies are not only being developed at JGU, but also at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research as part of the CRC 1066, which is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Crucial to the success of this research is the close cooperation with medical groups at the Mainz University Medical Center within the CRC. The first joint projects with the Kataoka work group have already started and include both exchange of PhD students and joint publications.

Professor Kwok Pui Lan is William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Her work represents a paradigm shift in the historiography of Christian mission. Instead of looking at the spread of Christianity as a movement promoted by the "white man" she includes the history of local Christianities in her research. Kwok has also set new standards in interreligious hermeneutics by demonstrating that in Asia the Bible can only be read in the context of the holy scriptures of other religions. Based on her interdisciplinary approach that integrates feminist and post-colonial theories, Kwok is also highly regarded outside theological circles.

Kwok Pui Lan, born in 1952 in the then British colony of Hong Kong, received her education first at the Chinese University in Hong Kong and at the South East Asia Graduate School of Theology. She was awarded a ThD by Harvard University and holds honorary doctorates from universities in the Netherlands and Sweden. The wide recognition she enjoys was shown in her election as President of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) in 2011, the largest and most influential professional organization for religious studies and theology. Professor Kwok Pui Lan has won several awards for her academic work and for her teaching activities, including the prestigious American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in Teaching.

By bestowing on her the Gutenberg Research Award, the GRC is honoring an outstanding representative of post-colonial feminist theology, sending a clear signal to German academic theology to be more open to intercultural issues. The university is thus also linking an internationally recognized Christian intellectual to Mainz, one who prominently speaks out in public debate. This results in far-reaching options for cooperation in the field of intercultural theology as it is represented by the Department of Comparative Religion and Missiology at the Faculty of Protestant Theology at JGU. Cooperation is already bearing fruit in the form of the promotion of young research talents and the development of intercultural teaching strategies.