Allison and Honjo win 2018 Nobel Medicine Prize for cancer research
01 October, 2018, 18:43 | Author: Norman Carr
According to MD Anderson, Allison's crucial insight was to block a protein on T cells that acts as a brake on their activation, freeing the T cells to attack cancer.
The scientists' work in the 1990s has since swiftly led to new and dramatically improved therapies for cancers such as melanoma and lung cancer, which had previously been extremely hard to treat.
"In parallel, Tasuku Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells and, after careful exploration of its function, eventually revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action".
The two scientists have been awarded the prize for their discovery that the body's immune system can be harnessed to attack cancer cells. 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. Allison then spent more than 15 years convincing other scientists and drug companies that his approach could work. Their work has been crucial to developing new and extremely effective treatments.
Allison, 70, conducted basic research on how the immune system - in particular, a cell called a T cell - fights infection.
Allison said his research began by studying the immune system and he stumbled upon this idea as a way to treat cancer, the same disease that killed his mother.
"I never dreamed my research would take the direction it has", Allison adds.
"I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition", Allison says in a press release.
He was recruited back to MD Anderson in November 2012 to lead the Immunology Department and to establish an immunotherapy research platform for MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program.
He said Allison's work a decade ago "really opened up immunotherapy" as a fifth pillar of cancer treatments, after surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and precision therapy. Carter announced in 2016 that he no longer needed treatment. "It represents a paradigmatic shift and a landmark in the fight against cancer".
"We need these drugs to work for more people", Allison said. "Until the seminal discoveries by the two laureates, progress into clinical development was modest", the Nobel jury said.
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