KYOTO-Tasuku Honjo credits his lifelong natural curiosity for his achievements that were capped with being named October 1 co-winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. These proteins block the T-cells from attacking the body itself.
The PD-1 protein that Honjo discovered has led to a breakthrough cancer immunotherapy, and earned him the US journal Science's "Breakthrough of the Year" prize in 2013.
The American and Japanese researchers discovered methods of removing the brakes on cells that fight invaders, paving the way for cancer immunotherapy, which has joined surgery, radiation and chemotherapy as a major weapon in the battle against cancer. This inspired Honjo to believe that the discovery could lead to the development of an effective medication.
"The 2018 Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have taken control of evolution and used it for purposes that bring the greatest benefit to humankind", the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences said.
Allison and Tashuka initially conceived that their discoveries may help treat chronic infections such as hepatitis B and C. The drugs created from their discoveries remain in trials for these conditions, but their most exciting application has come through the treatment of cancer. Treatment, often referred to as immune checkpoint therapy has fundamentally changed the outcome for certain groups of patients with advanced cancer. The cancer-produced protein suppresses the immune system's ability to fighting cancer tumors.
Doctors had long theorized that the body's immune system - the complex biological system of structures, chemicals and processes that defend against disease - could be harnessed to fight cancer.
Allison studied the T-cell protein CTLA-4 in the '90s, and developed an antibody that inhibited it, curing cancer in mice.Meanwhile, Honjo worked with PD-1, a similar protein capable of helping human patients achieve long-term remission. James Allison was born in Texas and is the current professor and chair of Immunology and executive director of immunotherapy platform at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. "I didn't set out to study cancer, but to understand the biology of T cells, these incredible cells to travel our bodies and work to protect us". "But now I am able to play golf again".
Dr Smith said he learned of the prize in a pre-dawn phone call from Stockholm.
For the first time since 1949, the Swedish Academy has postponed the announcement of the 2018 Nobel Literature Prize until next year, amid a #MeToo scandal and bitter internal dispute that has prevented it from functioning properly.
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".
The discovery has led to a new type of cancer treatment called immunotherapy. "They're going to be curative in a lot of patients".
Allison's and Honjo's prize-winning work started in the 1990s and was part of significant advances in cancer immunotherapy.
In a remarkably short time, drugs that inhibit these immune checkpoints (or immune brakes) have transformed the practice of clinical oncology.