Research beginning in the 1990’s has led to a Nobel Prize win in medicine for two researchers from the U.S. and Japan (BBC). James Allison and Tasuku Honjo gained the understanding of how to control the immune system. Their research is directly related to the development of “checkpoint inhibitors” (AP). These are drugs that use the immune system to attack the cancer cells and can be used even on advanced stage tumors. Before this, cancer treatment was limited to surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy (AP).
The ability to use the body’s immune system against itself came to light when both Allison and Honjo were investigating T Cells which are responsible for attacking invaders. They both understood that there was a biological aspect stopping T Cells from successfully attacking the cancer cells. Working separately, they each found one unique protein, CTLA4 and PD1, that impede on the T Cell’s ability to combat the cancer (REUTERS, AP). By inhibiting each protein, the T Cells were able to effectively work against the cancer cells. Drugs based on “checkpoint inhibitors” from Allison and Honjo’s work have successfully treated many people including former President Jimmy Carter (AP).
Tags: Japan, Cancer, Nobel Prize, U.S.