American James Allison, Japan’s Tasuku Honjo Win 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine
01 October, 2018, 18:45 | Author: Cecil Davis
Allison, professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in the United States, worked on a protein known as CTLA-4 and realised during his work that if this could be blocked, a brake would be released, unleashing immune cells to attack tumours. Their research has led to the development of drugs that release that Human immune system against the cancer cells. Allison spent 17 years convincing others that this approach could work, leading to approval in 2011 of the drug Yervoy, which showed near-miraculous results for a fraction of patients with a lethal form of skin cancer.
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.
The prize recognizes Allison's basic science discoveries on the biology of T cells, the adaptive immune system's soldiers, and his invention of immune checkpoint blockade to treat cancer. In 2013, Science magazine named cancer immunotherapy its Breakthrough of the Year, citing Allison's work as crucial to immunotherapy's rapid advancement, and The Economist honoured him with its Innovations Award in Bioscience.
In the early 1990s, Allison had been studying a protein called CTLA-4, which sits in the outer layer - the membrane - of an active T-cell and behaves like an off-switch.
His 1994 experiment was spectacularly successful, with mice with cancer cured by treatment with the antibodies that inhibit the brake and unlock antitumor T-cell activity.
Today, immunotherapies based on Allison and Honjo's research work especially well for fighting advanced and aggressive tumors.
Allison, 70, is now chair of the department of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
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Prof Honjo said the award came "completely out of the blue" and "of course, I was very happy, delighted at the same time, but shocked". Allison, initially driven only by curiosity about immune cells, had a insane thought: Maybe CTLA-4 can be exploited to fight cancer. Carter announced in 2016 that he no longer needed treatment. Their approach, known as immune checkpoint theory, had "revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed", the committee said.
Allison started his career at MD Anderson in 1977, arriving as one of the first employees of a new basic science research center located in Smithville, Texas.
Awards in physics, chemistry, peace and economics will follow.
The discovery made by the two laureates "constitutes a landmark in our fight against cancer", the committee tweeted shortly after the announcement.
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