Nobel Prize In Medicine Awarded To Cancer Immunotherapy Researchers

Scientist looking at cells in a lab
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The 2018 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine has been awarded to two scientists who found out how to battle cancer by using the body’s immune system.

Professor James P. Allison, from the United States, and Professor Tasuku Honjo, from Japan, have focused their work on treatments for “advanced, deadly skin cancer,” the BBC reports.

The prize-giving Swedish academy praised their work, saying that immune checkpoint therapy has revolutionized the cancer research and treatment sector. According to experts, the pioneering method is “strikingly effective.”

Immune checkpoint theory, which uses the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells, is a “landmark in our fight against cancer,” the committee said. As per CNN, they also added that Professor Allison and Professor Honjo’s work had “revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed.”

Allison is a professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Professor Honjo has worked at Kyoto University for the past 34 years. They will share the hefty sum of 9 million Swedish kronor, which is around $1.01 million.

“I want to continue my research… so that this immune therapy will save more cancer patients than ever,” Professor Honjo said when accepting the prize.

Professor Allison studied a protein that has been identified to work as a “brake” on the immune system. He found that by releasing the brake, the immune cells were allowed to attack the cancerous cells. Professor Honjo discovered another protein in immune cells and figured how it could operate as a brake, too.

Their discoveries have led to the development of new drugs that offer a new glimmer of hope to patients with advanced and previously deemed untreatable types of cancer. Treatments based on both their methods have proved to be effective in battling the disease.

“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 #NobelPrize laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy,” the Nobel committee tweeted.

According to the BBC, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is currently using immune checkpoint therapy to treat patients with melanoma, which is the most serious type of skin cancer.

Although results weren’t seen in all the patients, around 40 percent of them saw positive evolution, with some even being able to get rid of the tumor completely, a study showed, per the BBC.