Immunologist Tasuku Honjo, 76, conducts his research at Kyoto University in Japan. This led him to wonder whether the immune system could provide a means to combat cancer and strengthened his belief that it could provide a much more effective and less toxic form of therapy than radiation and chemotherapy, the devastating effects of which he had witnessed in both his mother and uncle.
The method researched by the scientists have found out ways to remove the brakes on cells that fight attackers. Removing these proteins from the equation allows immune cells called T-cells to attack the cancer. Such treatment is also called "checkpoint therapy", a term that inspired the name of the Checkpoints, a musical group of cancer researchers in which Allison plays harmonica. In other words, this cancer therapy relies somewhat on serendipity.
The Nobel Assembly said after announcing the prize in Stockholm that the therapy "has now revolutionised cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed". "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", he said. "We congratulate him on this highly deserved honor".
Allison also said he was "honoured and humbled" by the award.
"I had lung cancer", the member was quoted as saying, "and thought I was playing my last round of golf. I always tell people that it was one of the happiest times of my life, with the academic environment, the enthusiasm, the students, the faculty".
Today, immunotherapies based on Allison and Honjo's research work especially well for fighting advanced and aggressive tumors.
Allison, whose mother died of lymphoma, built on that research over the next 40 years, mostly in California and in Texas, where he is now chair of immunology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
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"His actions helped create the superb research environment here, which is so conducive to making the fundamental discoveries that will be the basis of the next generation of medical breakthroughs", Raulet said.
His 1994 experiment was spectacularly successful, with mice with cancer cured by treatment with the antibodies that inhibit the brake and unlock antitumor T-cell activity.
James P. Allison, 70, was born in Alice, Texas. 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.
T cells are key immune system soldiers. This attitude rubbed off on the team.
Cancerous tumors are notoriously skilled at dodging our immune systems.
The results were astounding - tumors disappeared. "A comment like that makes me happier than any prize", he said.