Published: Thu, October 04, 2018
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

American, Japanese win Nobel for cancer research

American, Japanese win Nobel for cancer research

American James Allison and Japanese Tasuku Honjo were awarded the honourable prize by the award-giving body.

Allison's work led to development of the first immune checkpoint inhibitor drug, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Commenting on Monday's award, Dan Davis, an immunologist at Britain's University of Manchester, said "this game-changing cancer therapy" has "sparked a revolution in thinking about the many other ways in which the immune system can be harnessed or unleashed to fight cancer and other illnesses". Such cancers can be hard to treat, and therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation can do damage as well as good. In 2011 a drug based on CTLA-4, ipilimumab, was approved for treating melanoma.

Honjo, 76, meanwhile vowed to push ahead with his work.

As The Guardian explains, the human immune system "normally seeks out and destroys mutated cells, but cancer finds sophisticated ways to hide from immune attacks", in part by "ramping up braking mechanisms created to prevent immune cells from attacking normal tissue".

"I never dreamed my research would take the direction it has", Allison said in a statement.

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Allison studied a protein on T cells called CTLA-4 that acts as a brake on the immune system.

Allison and Honjo have previously shared the 2014 Tang Prize, touted as Asia's version of the Nobels, for their research.

Two researchers from the United States and Japan won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discoveries that help the body marshal its cellular troops to attack invading cancers.

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

Perlmann said he had not yet managed to contact Allison. "I didn't set out to study cancer, but to understand the biology of T cells - these incredible cells travel to our bodies and work to protect us".

"I may become a professional golfer", he said in reply to what he wanted to do after he completes his current research.

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Honjo, also an immunologist, discovered a second receptor called PD-1 that also acted as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action.

Charles Swanton, chief clinician at the charity Cancer Research UK, said the scientists' work had revolutionized cancer and immunotherapy. This discovery has also proved to be effective in developing treatments.

Following the discovery of the protein in 1992, Honjo presented his research in 2002 showing that a drug that prevents the unification of cancer cells and the PD-1 protein is effective against cancer in animals. He is a professor at University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Centre.

The 76-year-old Honjo - a professor emeritus at Kyoto University known for his discovery of a protein that contributed to the development of an immunotherapeutic drug against cancer - is the 26th Japanese Nobel prize victor.

A ceremony at which the prizes are bestowed will be held December 10. This year's Nobel Prize in Literature has been postponed.

The winners of 2018 physics prize will be announced on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry prize on Wednesday.

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