Published: Wed, October 03, 2018
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

M.D. Anderson's Dr. Jim Allison wins joint Nobel Prize in Medicine

M.D. Anderson's Dr. Jim Allison wins joint Nobel Prize in Medicine

American James Allison and Japan's Tasuku Honjo have won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine for a pioneering approach to cancer treatment.

James Allison of the U.S. and Tasuku Honjo of Japan won the Nobel on Monday for identifying two different brakes on the immune system which, when turned off, allow the body´s defence system to attack cancerous cells faster and more effectively.

According to the Nobel Assembly, therapies based on this second molecule have proven to be "surprisingly effective in the fight against cancer". By releasing this brake, the body's own immune system can be stimulated to attack tumors.

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 academy said that this year's Nobel Prize constitutes a landmark in the fight against cancer. That award from Keio University recognizes researchers who have made an outstanding contribution to medicine or the life sciences. The researchers will share a prize of 9 million Swedish kronor (just over $1 million). Subsequent research has led to agents targeting additional immune checkpoints, often PD-1 and PD-L1, to treat a range of cancers including head and neck, gastric kidney, bladder, gastric, liver, colorectal, and cervical cancers, and Hodgkin lymphoma. James Allison was born in Texas and is the current professor and chair of Immunology and executive director of immunotherapy platform at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Even if antigens are injected to activate the immune system, the PD-1 protein works to suppress immune function. The award was announced in a statement from the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet on Monday.

Other cancer treatments have been awarded Nobel prizes, including hormone treatment for prostate cancer in 1966, chemotherapy in 1988 and bone marrow transplants for leukemia in 1990. Those discoveries sparked a revolution for specific cancer treatments.

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There are myriad immune checkpoint proteins on the surface of immune cells and normal cells of the body to allow this regulation to occur.

Checkpoint inhibitors now available to patients can be used to treat lung, kidney, bladder, head and neck cancers as well as aggressive skin cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma, reports Denise Grady for The New York Times. Awards in physics, chemistry, peace and economics will follow. "But now I am able to play golf again".

"It's a great, emotional privilege to meet cancer patients who've been successfully treated with immune checkpoint blockade", he added.

Allison said the biggest challenge with immunotherapy now is to learn why it helps some patients but not others — and how to combine it with traditional therapies to improve outcomes and reduce side effects. "They are living proof of the power of basic science, of following our urge to learn and to understand how things work", Allison said.

Allison studied Urba's research, then developed a drug in the fight against cancer. No literature prize will be awarded this year, but the Swedish Academy that awards the prestigious prize is still in the limelight. "We need more basic science research to do that", Allison said.

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