Health Care

US, Japan duo win Nobel Medicine Prize for cancer therapy

US, Japan duo win Nobel Medicine Prize for cancer therapy

"The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer", the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute said as it awarded the prize of nine million Swedish crowns (776,207 pounds).

The American and Japanese researchers worked out what was stopping immune cells from attacking tumors.

"I was doing basic science to do basic science, but you know, I had the good opportunity to see it develop into something that actually does people good", Allison has said.

"Because this approach targets immune cells rather than specific tumors, it holds great promise to thwart diverse cancers", the Lasker Foundation wrote when it awarded Allison its 2015 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.

Allison studied a known protein and developed the concept into a new treatment approach, while Honjo discovered a new protein that also operated as a brake on immune cells. In 1982, while working at The University of Texas System Cancer Center, Allison made a breakthrough discovery - identifying the T-cell antigen receptor, which allows T cells to recognize an unusual protein on the surface of another cell.

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The proteins can stop the body's natural defences from killing cancer cells.

Allison's interest in the immune system was deepened by an experiment he conducted on mice when he was a graduate student. It was his perseverance, as well as his science, that brought cancer immune therapy to the public, Lanier says.

Jim Allison, the chairman of the center's Immunology Department and executive director of the immunotherapy platform, was recognized by the Nobel Committee along with Japan's Tasuku Honjo for the pair's pioneering research into cancer treatment.

"When Dana showed me the results, I was really surprised", Allison said.

In the early 1990s, Allison had been studying a protein called CTLA-4, which sits in the outer layer - the membrane - of an active T-cell and behaves like an off-switch.

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At news conference later Monday in Kyoto, Honjo said what makes him most delighted is when he hears from patients who have recovered from serious illnesses because of his research.

For decades researchers had been trying to figure out effective ways to use the body's own immune system against cancer.

Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year.

Lanier adds he has nominated Allison for the Nobel several times, but that it probably took the committee some time to figure out who deserved to receive it alongside him. No literature prize is being given this year.

Monday's announcement represents only the latest instance in which a current or former Scripps Research scientist has been awarded the Nobel Prize.

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