James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo have won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries which led to the development of cancer therapies that work by harnessing the body's own immune system.
Their discovery led to a "landmark in our fight against cancer", according to a statement from the Nobel Assembly of Sweden's Karolinska Institute.
The Nobel committee cited Allison's study of a protein called CTLA-4 that functions as a brake on the immune system.
He realized the potential of releasing the brake and unleashing immune cells to attack tumors. Therapies based on his method have also proved effective in fighting cancer. Such treatment is also called "checkpoint therapy", a term that inspired the name of the Checkpoints, a musical group of cancer researchers in which Allison plays harmonica.
Allison, a professor at the University of Texas, and Honjo, a professor at Kyoto University, were in 2014 awarded the Tang Prize, touted as Asia's version of the Nobels, for their research. And more recently, scientists have found that combining the two targets can be even more effective in cancer treatment, particularly in combating melanoma. Lower left: Antibodies (green) against CTLA-4 block the function of the brake leading to activation of T cells and attack on cancer cells.Upper right: PD-1 is another T-cell brake that inhibits T-cell activation.
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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".
Berg said that former President Jimmy Carter's cancer, which had spread to his brain, was treated with one of the drugs developed from Honjo's work.
For an in-depth listen about the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, look for the Scientific American Science Talk podcast later today.
The announcement in Helsinki was the first of several prizes to be given out this week.
The winners of this year's physics prize will be announced on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry prize on Wednesday. The economics laureate, which is not technically a Nobel but is given in honor of Alfred Nobel, the prizes' founder, will be announced next Monday.