Published: Mon, October 01, 2018
Medical | By

US, Japanese pair win Nobel Medicine Prize for cancer therapy

US, Japanese pair win Nobel Medicine Prize for cancer therapy

Researchers James Allison and Tasuku Honjo have won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering how to use the body's immune system in the fight against cancer.

Professor Allison works at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

The winners were chosen for "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation". Honjo's research led to the clinical development of treating cancer patients by targeting that protein.

Their breakthroughs take advantage of the immune system's ability to attack cancer cells by releasing the brakes on immune cells. The therapy is created to remove this protein "brake" and allow the immune system to more quickly get to work fighting the cancer.

"The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer", the institute said.

In 1992, Japanese scientist, Tasuku Honjo from Kyoto University, separately discovered another protein on immune cells called PD-1 and revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action to CTLA-4.

However, "immune checkpoint therapy" as it is known has since revolutionised the battle against the disease, and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed.

The researchers will share a prize of 9 million Swedish kronor (just over $1 million).

Other cancer treatments have previously been awarded Nobel prizes, including methods for hormone treatment for prostate cancer in 1966, chemotherapy in 1988 and bone marrow transplantation for leukaemia in 1990.

Last year's prize went to three Americans for work in identifying genes and proteins that work in the body's biological clock, which affects functions such as sleep patterns, blood pressure and eating habits.

The winners of this year's physics prize will be announced on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry prize on Wednesday. No literature prize is being given this year.

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