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Patron Saint's Day 2017: KU Leuven to award four honorary doctorates 

19 Dec 2016

As part of its Patron Saint’s Day celebrations, KU Leuven traditionally confers a number of honorary doctorates in recognition of extraordinary scientific, social, or cultural achievements. On 15 February 2017, the university will award honorary doctorates to five people who excel in their domain.

As part of its Patron Saint’s Day celebrations, KU Leuven traditionally confers a number of honorary doctorates in recognition of extraordinary scientific, social, or cultural achievements. On 15 February 2017, the university will award honorary doctorates to five people who excel in their domain.

Professor James P. Allison and Professor Carl H. June (joint honorary doctorate)

James P. Allison (left) and Carl H. June 

The future of cancer patients may be considerably brighter thanks to James P. Allison and Carl H. June. The two immunologists – affiliated with the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania, respectively – revolutionised the treatment of cancer by using the patient’s immune system as a powerful weapon. June’s team was the first to genetically modify T cells – the ‘conductors’ of the immune system – in such a way as to make them identify and attack the malignant disease in the patient with accuracy. Allison unravelled the built-in inhibitory mechanisms of T cells and developed ways to block them. This makes the immune system more active in terms of – again – identifying and attacking cancer cells. In 2013, Science called their achievements in cancer immunology the Breakthrough of the Year. Allison emphasised that their insights have to lead to results in the hospital. “It is important to not just use your knowledge for the joy of learning and knowing something,” he says, “but to help people too.”

The nominator of this honorary doctorate is Professor Peter Vandenberghe, the co-nominator is Professor Peter Carmeliet.

Professor Theodor Dieter

Five hundred years after the start of the Reformation in October 1517, our university confers an honorary doctorate on Professor Theodor Dieter. He is a specialist in Lutheran studies and the history of Reformation, and plays a pivotal role in the dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans. He is most famous for his insights into the intellectual profile of the young Luther, for which Aristotle and scholastic philosophy played an important role. He is the main architect of almost all Lutheran-Catholic dialogue texts of the past twenty years. He is head of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, which plays an important role in the ecumenical training of Lutheran pastors.

The nominators of this honorary doctorate are Professors Peter De Mey, Andrea Aldo Robiglio, and Violet Soen.

Professor Louise O. Fresco

© Jeroen Oerlemans

The Dutch Professor Louise O. Fresco is a unique and committed voice in the academic and social debate on sustainable food supply. She was one of the first to emphasize that our food requires a well-considered and widely supported policy that incorporates the common ground with other major social challenges: under- and overweight, environmental impact, climate change, biodiversity, economic and social developments. Fresco boosts the food debate with international organisations, through columns, on television, and in books for a non-specialist audience. “Food is the source of much confusion today,” she states in her most famous book, Hamburgers in Paradise (2012), but also:  “We are who we are because of what we eat, and with whom. What it means to be human is concentrated in food and in our understanding of it.” Fresco has been president of the Wageningen UR Executive Board since 2014.

The nominators of this honorary doctorate are Professors Wannes Keulemans and Annemie Geeraerd.

Margrethe Vestager

© Trine Sondergaard

European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager pursues a firm policy on competition and state aid within the European Union. She investigates the market behaviour of companies such as Google, Apple, Starbucks, and Fiat, and she does not hesitate to take action if necessary. Thanks to her vision and policy Europe manages to keep the European market and market access open and transparent. EU Commissioner Vestager also pays specific attention to the ethical dimension of the behaviour of companies and governments.

The nominator of this honorary doctorate is Professor Koen Debackere.

Unfortunately, Margrethe Vestager will not be able to attend the Patron Saint's Day celebrations. She will receive her honorary doctorate at a later date.


Translated by Katrien Bollen