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Who and Why They Won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine

The Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine 2018 was awarded on Monday, Oct. 1, to James P. Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan for their work on activating the body’s natural immune system to attack cancer. The result of years of research caused a revolution in the field of medicine. It opened new paths for the treatment of patients who had lost hope.

Their success, which came after many researchers had given up on the idea, “Brought immunotherapy out from decades of skepticism,” said Dr. Jedd Wolchok, a cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “It has,” he continued,“ led to human applications that have affected an untold number of people’s health.

Prior to their discovery, the doctors had to rely on surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormonal treatment. But now the that has entirely changed. The new treatment will rely on the body’s immune system, particularly by the use of checkpoint inhibitors.

Here’s a video of James Allison explaining how they work:

But the problem is that the C inhibitors do not work for everyone and they have only been approved for some cancers. They are known to have severe side effects, and above all, they are expensive, costing more than $100,000 a year. But the new approach, which is known as immunotherapy, is under the spotlight for the treatment of a large variety of cancer. For this, a lot of research is underway, which includes the work of Dr. Allison and Dr. Honjo in order to find better ways to combine the use of checkpoint inhibitors for treatment.

Dr. James P. Allison

He was born in 1948 in Alice, Texas. He received his PhD in 1973 at the University of Texas, Austin. From 1974 to 1977, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, Calif. From 1977 to 1984, he was a faculty member at University of Texas System Cancer Center, Smithville; from 1985 to 2004 at University of California, Berkeley and from 2004 to 2012 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York. From 1997 to 2012 he was an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Since 2012 he has been professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and is affiliated with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

Tasuku Honjo

He was born in 1942 in Kyoto, Japan. In 1966 he became an MD, and from 1971 to 1974 he was a research fellow in the at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Baltimore and at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md. He received his PhD in 1975 at Kyoto University. From 1974 to 1979 he was a faculty member at Tokyo University and from 1979 to 1984 at Osaka University. Since 1984 he has been professor at Kyoto University. He was a Faculty Dean from 1996 to 2000 and from 2002 to 2004 at Kyoto University.

Here is the official announcement:

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