Otto H. Warburg, 1883-1970.

The photo is courtesy of Florian Spillert and Susanne Uebele from the Archives of the Max Planck Society.

One hundred years ago, Otto H. Warburg identified the metabolic hallmark of cancer, now known as the Warburg effect. This phenomenon observes that tumor cells consume glucose at an elevated rate and produce significant amounts of lactate. It posed a challenging question: why would tumor cells rely on the Warburg effect when the production and excretion of lactate seemed like an inefficient use of the carbon backbone and energy essential for proliferation? In one of his seminal reviews, Warburg suggested that the Warburg effect stemmed from respiratory injury, leading to cell dedifferentiation. Not only did he recognize that inhibiting respiration resulted in metabolic reprogramming, he also astutely proposed a link between metabolic shifts and cell dedifferentiation. However, the precise mechanism was elusive due to the then-limited understanding of the interplay between metabolism and epigenetic regulation.

Our laboratory is dedicated to pursuing two primary objectives:

(1)   Elucidating the manner in which the Warburg effect/metabolic reprogramming is triggered, subsequently remodeling the epigenetic landscape and disrupt differentiation.

(2)   Develop metabolic therapy that can reverse the Warburg effect and reactivate differentiation, effectively reverting cancer cells back to normal cells.

Warburg’s manometer that was used to discover the Warburg effect. It is a U-shaped tube that measures pressure change. From the Archives of the Max Planck Society.

The Otto-Warburg-Haus, originally established by Otto Warburg as the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Cell Physiology in 1930. Following Warburg's passing, the building transitioned into the Archive of the Max Planck Society in 1975 (Boltzmannstraße 14, 14195 Berlin-Dahlem, Germany). Notably, a statue of Emil Fischer, Warburg's mentor during his pursuit of a chemistry degree, stands proudly in front of the building. Fischer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1902 for his work on sugar and purine structures and syntheses.

Friedhof Dahlem (Königin-Luise-Straße 57, 14195 Berlin, Germany), serves as the final resting place of Warburg. During a personal pilgrimage to Dahlem in May 2023, Jiangbin captured these photos.