Former Scripps Research postdoc wins Nobel Prize in medicine

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The 2018 #NobelPrize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded jointly to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation". Research by Allison at the University of Texas in the U.S. and Honjo at Japan's Kyoto University explored how the body's immune system can be harnessed to attack cancer cells by releasing the brakes on immune cells.

The method researched by the scientists have found out ways to remove the brakes on cells that fight attackers. "And I thought, 'If we could do that in people, this is going to be fantastic'".

"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's success with CTLA-4 in cancer persuaded Honjo to consider his molecule in cancer as well-and he found PD-1 therapy was even safer and more effective against a number of cancers, including lung cancer, which kills about 150,000 Americans a year.

However, "immune checkpoint therapy" as it is known has since revolutionised the battle against the disease, and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed.

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. "A comment like that makes me happier than any prize", he said.

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In 1995, Allison was one of two scientists to identify the ligand CTLA-4 as an inhibitory receptor on T-cells.

In this video about UC Berkeley's new Immunotherapeutics and Vaccine Research Initiative (IVRI), Allison discusses his groundbreaking work on cancer immunotherapy.

Their parallel work concerned proteins that act as brakes on the body's immune system.

Honjo's therapy takes a similar but more direct approach.

Among those to have received such treatment is former United States president Jimmy Carter, who was diagnosed in 2015 with the skin cancer melanoma, which had spread to his brain. The Nobel prize can only be awarded to individuals, but it is important to remember that others would have been involved in the discoveries. In 2013, Science magazine named cancer immunotherapy its Breakthrough of the Year, citing Allison's work as crucial to immunotherapy's rapid advancement, and The Economist honoured him with its Innovations Award in Bioscience. The recipients include K. Barry Sharpless, who won he Nobel in chemistry in 2001 for his insights on antibodies, and Bruce Beutler, who won the prize in physiology and medicine in 2011 for his work in immunology.

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