The 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine went to two, James Allison, and Tasuki Honjo for their pioneering work in fighting cancer.
The researchers, both working separately, found a way to make use of the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. The approach is known as immune checkpoint therapy.
Allison studied a protein that functions as a break on the immune system preventing it from attacking various cancer cells. He discovered that removing the break allowed the immune cells to attack tumors. Dr. Honjo also discovered a protein also operated in a similar way as a break, however, with a different action than the protein Dr. Allison found.
Previously, cancer treatment consisted of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Now, using their research, it would be possible to use a patient’s own immune system to help attack cancer cells. The new medications are designed to release the so-called breaks, enabling the immune system to attack cancer cells. So far, the medications are contributing to remarkable remissions in people with lung and skin cancers and Allison hopes to apply the medication to more stubborn cancers such as breast and prostate cancers.
The Nobel committee termed their research “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.”