Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to Scientists Who Developed Breakthrough Cancer Treatment

Henrietta Brewer
October 1, 2018

The 2018 #NobelPrize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded jointly to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation".

Allison studied a protein on T cells called CTLA-4 that acts as a brake on the immune system. Their research has led to the development of drugs that release that Human immune system against the cancer cells. He performed his prize-winning studies at the University of California Berkeley and at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NY.

In 1992, Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells called PD-1.

"Allison's and Honjo's discoveries have added a new pillar in cancer therapy".

The anti-PD-1 "checkpoint inhibitors" have proved even more effective than anti-CTLA-4 treatment, giving hope to patients with lung cancer, renal cancer, lymphoma, and melanoma, among others.

Allison, whose mother died of lymphoma, built on that research over the next 40 years, mostly in California and in Texas, where he is now chair of immunology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

"For more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer".

Speaking to NPR in 2016, Allison said in his experiments on mice with cancer, he tinkered with one key molecule on the outside of T cells in the rodent's immune system. A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge.

Dr. Otis W. Brawley, a close friend of Allison's, said the Nobel committee usually waits about ten years to make sure a scientific discovery "sticks as being really important". Allison developed this idea into a new type of cancer treatment.

Allison's and Honjo's prize-winning work started in the 1990s and was part of significant advances in cancer immunotherapy.

"In some patients, this therapy is remarkably effective", Jeremy Berg, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals, told the AP. It was because of a sexual misconduct scandal that led to the decision was the Nobel assembly.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded in Oslo on Friday, while the announcement of the economics prize will cap off this year's Nobel season on October 8.

Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year.

Other reports by iNewsToday