Immunotherapy garners Nobel attention.
Discoveries about ways to harness the immune system to attack cancer have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. James Allison of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University in Japan each discovered ways to remove the immune system’s “brakes” that prevent it from attacking tumor cells.
Such cancer immunotherapies have revolutionized the treatment of certain types of cancer, causing previously untreatable tumors in some patients to shrink to almost nothing.
“James Allison studied a known protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. He realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby unleashing our immune cells to attack tumors,” the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said in an announcement this morning. “He then developed this concept into a brand new approach for treating patients.”
“In parallel, Tasuku Honjo discovered a protein on immune cells and, after careful exploration of its function, eventually revealed that it also operates as a brake, but with a different mechanism of action. Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer.”
“It is really, really an honor,” Honjo said at a press conference at Kyoto University today. He stressed that the revolutionary therapy he helped develop was the result of basic science, and said he hopes this Nobel “will give encouragement to many researchers in basic studies.”
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