Researchers from the U.S., Japan win Nobel for cancer research

Grant Boone
October 1, 2018

The 2018 #NobelPrize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded jointly to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation".

"Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer", the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute said as they awarded the prize of 9 million Swedish crowns ($1 million, €872,000).

Allison, an American immunologist, conducted a study on a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system.

Honjo, of Kyoto University, discovered a new protein, the ligand PD-1, which also acted as a brake on immune cells. "He then developed this concept into a brand new approach for treating patients".

In 1992, Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells called PD-1.

"The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer", the institute said.

Allison's research was conducted at the University of California, Berkeley. "The immune system was neglected because there was no strong evidence it could be effective", said Nadia Guerra, head of a cancer laboratory at Imperial College London. For many scientists, he said, a driving motivation "is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge". He now works at Houston's M.D.

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Dr. Otis W. Brawley, a close friend of Allison's, said the Nobel committee usually waits about ten years to make sure a scientific discovery "sticks as being really important".

"In some patients, this therapy is remarkably effective", Jeremy Berg, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals, told the AP.

The literature prize will not be handed out this year after the awarding body was hit by a sexual misconduct scandal.

Awards in physics, chemistry, peace and economics will follow.

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.

Last year, United States geneticists Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young were awarded the medicine prize for their research on the role of genes in setting the "circadian clock" which regulates sleep and eating patterns, hormones and body temperature.

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