The Nobel Prize for Medicine has been awarded to two scientists who have discovered a ‘revolutionary’ way of treating cancer.
James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo, American and Japanese respectively, found that the body’s immune system could be turned on cancers.
Professor Allison researched a protein that operates as a brake on the immune system.
He realised the prospect of of releasing the brake and the immune cells in order to attack tumours. Allison believes it could be a new avenue to treating terminally ill patients.
The Nobel committee wrote, as per the Independent:
[Professor Honjo] discovered a protein on immune cells and 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.
Cancer kills millions of people every year and is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges. By stimulating the inherent ability of our immune system to attack tumour cells this year’s Nobel Laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.
For more than 100 years scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer.
Until the seminal discoveries by the two laureates, progress into clinical development was modest. Checkpoint therapy has now revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed.
Professor Allison said in a statement that he had made the discovery while simply looking to expand human knowledge.
I’m honoured and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition. A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge. I didn’t set out to study cancer, but to understand the biology of T cells, these incredible cells that travel our bodies and work to protect us.
The first Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace.
The ceremony came on the fifth anniversary of the death of Swede Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. In his will, he directed the majority of his huge fortune be placed in a fund in which the interest would be ‘annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.
While Nobel offered no concrete reason for the creation of the awards, it’s believed he did so out of moral regret following the savage use of his inventions in war.