American, Japanese cancer researchers share Nobel Prize in medicine

01 October, 2018, 18:41 | Author: Joshua Bennett
  • Nobel prize laureates James P. Allison left and Tasuku Honjo are shown during the presentation in Stockholm on Oct. 1

Congratulations to MD Anderson Cancer Center's Dr. Jim Allison, who has jointly won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his immunotherapy research.

Allison is the first MD Anderson scientist to receive the world's most preeminent award for outstanding discoveries in the fields of life sciences and medicine.

The Nobel Assembly said after announcing the prize in Stockholm that the therapy "has now revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed".

"I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition", Allison says in a press release. For many scientists, he said, a driving motivation "is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge". Removing these proteins from the equation allows immune cells called T-cells to attack the cancer.

Tap here to watch an animation on how it works.

Allison, 70, is now chair of the department of immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He works as an immunologist at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Honojo's lab discovered when they injected antibodies against PD-1 that cancer cells could no longer dupe the T-cells.


Allison's and Honjo's prize-winning work started in the 1990s and was part of significant advances in cancer immunotherapy.

Trying everything they could in mice to tweak the immune system, Krummel and Allison soon found that a protein receptor called CTLA-4 seemed to be holding T cells back, like a brake in a vehicle. His work led to development of the first immune checkpoint inhibitor drug.

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration approved an anti-CTLA-4 antibody (ipilimumab) as a treatment for late-stage melanoma. It is known commercially as Yervoy. In other words, this cancer therapy relies somewhat on serendipity.

"It's a great, emotional privilege to meet cancer patients who've been successfully treated with immune checkpoint blockade", he added. "They are living proof of the power of basic science". Just last week, such a drug was approved for treatment of another kind of skin cancer called squamous cell cancer, he said. It was because of a sexual misconduct scandal that led to the decision was the Nobel assembly. Some types of cancers can intentionally stimulate PD-1 on T-cells, causing the immune bodyguards to take a hike.

After Allison himself replicated the experiment, "that's when I said, OK, we've got something here". "We patented it", Allison told The Scientist earlier this year. As a result, the T-cells could kill the cancer cells.

Allison will be honored at Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm in December. 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.

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