Im­munother­apy to treat can­cer gets No­bel boost Im­mu­nol­o­gists, Honjo and Al­li­son win No­bel Medicine

Chemical Industry Digest - - Science Pages -


James Al­li­son of the US and Dr Ta­suku Honjo of Ja­pan have won the No­bel Prize for Medicine for 2018. All along treat­ment for can­cer meant ex­ter­nal in­ter­ven­tions from chemo­ther­apy to ra­di­a­tion to surgery. Now the work of these two sci­en­tists, work­ing separately which started off in the 1990s, showed how it is pos­si­ble to stim­u­late the body’s own im­mune sys­tem to at­tack can­cer. They have proved how cer­tain pro­teins act as “brake” on the im­mune sys­tem’s T-cells, lim­it­ing their abil­ity to at­tack can­cer cells. T-cells are a type of white blood cells that can iden­tify and kill in­fected, dam­aged or can­cer­ous cells, us­ing their claw like re­cep­tors that can recog­nise and lock on to anti­gens – for­eign bod­ies on the sur­face of in­fected or can­cer cells. How­ever, their ca­pa­bil­ity is com­pro­mised when can­cer cells avoid de­struc­tion by shut­ting down a switch on the T-cell called as an im­mune check point. This al­lows the can­cer to grow undis­turbed.

In 1995 Al­li­son iden­ti­fied a pro­tein, the CTLA-4 mol­e­cule that acts as an in­hibitory re­cep­tor on T-cells and re­alised the po­ten­tial of re­leas­ing this in­hibitory brake and thereby un­leash­ing our im­mune cells to at­tack tu­mours.

Around the same time, Honjo dis­cov­ered a pro­tein on im­mune cells, the lig­and PD-1 and he too reaalised that this too acted as a brake on T-cells. Once these pro­teins that ‘brake’ the sys­tems are re­moved or blocked, it frees the T-cell im­mune sys­tem to at­tack can­cer cells. A sin­gle T-cell can kill thou­sands of can­cer cells.

The work of these two sci­en­tists have led to new and dra­mat­i­cally im­proved ther­a­pies for can­cers such as melanoma, lung can­cer etc which are dif­fi­cult to treat can­cers.

The No­bel Assem­bly at Swe­den’s Karolin­ska In­sti­tute re­marked, “The sem­i­nal dis­cov­er­ies by the two sci­en­tists con­sti­tute a land­mark in our fight against can­cer. James P Al­li­son, 70, is at present, Chair­man of Im­munol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Texas MD Anderson Can­cer Cen­tre in the US. Pro­fes­sor Ta­sukuHonjo, 76, is with the Ky­oto Univer­sity, Ja­pan.

On the web­site of the Texas Univer­sity, Al­li­son wrote “It’s a great emo­tional priv­i­lege to meet can­cer pa­tients who have been suc­cess­fully treated with im- mune check­point block­ade. They are liv­ing proof of the power of ba­sic sci­ence, of fol­low­ing our urge to learn and to un­der­stand how things work”.

The win­ners of the 2018 No­bel prize for Medicine: (L-R): Dr James Al­li­son, Dr Ta­suku Honjo

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