American James Allison and Japanese Tasuku Honjo have recently been named the winners for the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their groundbreaking approach to cancer treatment. The Nobel Committee said,
“the pair’s research—which harnesses the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells—amounted to a landmark in our fight against cancer. The approach, known as immune checkpoint theory, had revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed.”
Allison has been quoted saying that he is in a state of shock and is still having to let the information sink in. It is an even greater honor as the Nobel Prize in Medicine has never been awarded for cancer therapy. He continued in his statement and addressed cancer patients suffering around the globe, letting them know that progress is being made.
As the chair of immunology and the executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Allison focused his studies on a protein that behaves as a brake on the immune system. More specifically, he found that releasing the brake prompted immune cells to attack the tumors. This discovery led to new and effective treatments known as immune checkpoint blockade therapies.
Surprisingly, Allison’s s research was not directed at finding a cure to cancer, he simply wanted to know how T cells work. According to the National Cancer Institute, T cells are a type of white blood cell that function as part of the immune system and help protect the body from infection, which implies they may be useful in fighting cancer. Thanks to Allison, the world’s first immune checkpoint inhibitor drug called Ipilimumab was made possible. It was approved for late-stage melanoma by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2011 and quickly became the first drug available to lengthen the lifespan of patients with late-stage melanoma. In addition to melanoma, ipilimumab is now used to treat colorectal cancer, a kidney cancer by the name of renal cell carcinoma, and continues to be studied for treatment of other types.
In light of Allison’s massive achievement, he plans to continue his research with a focus on the intricacies of the immune system’s response to cancer in search of new effective treatments.
Tasuku Honjo worked as a professor at Kyoto University in Japan for 34 years, in which time he discovered a protein on immune cells that demonstrated how that too has the ability to operate as a break through a different process. Parallel to Allison’s findings, therapies based on Honjo’s work have been found to be affective in fighting certain strains of cancer. The two men will be ceremoniously honored for their research at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden in December 2018.
The Nobel Committee stated via Twitter that,
“Cancer Kills millions of people every year and is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges. By Stimulating the ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells, this year’s Nobel Prize laureates have established an entirely new principal for cancer therapy”.
Like many other people around the world, my life has been greatly impacted by cancer’s deadly grip. At a young age I lost two people in my life that I looked up to and considered prominent role models to cancer. I am overjoyed about who the Nobel Committee has chosen as 2018 recipients as any and all progress in the field deserves to be recognized and honored. Allison’s and Honjo’s research has positively impacted so many lives thus far and can only do more good as years pass. Through extensive research, hopefully we will one day be able to conquer this deadly illness once and for all.