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Current Events
Who were the winners of this year’s noble prize in physiology and medicine? (2018)
This year’s Nobel prize in Medicine and Physiology was jointly awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo. What were their contributions to science?
James P. Allison developed a new way of treating cancer patients. Upon studying and investigating a known protein and the role it plays as an immune system brake, he realized that there is away this brake can be released, leading to the unleash of immune cells to attack malignant cells (“The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2018”).
On the contrary, Tasuku Honjo also discovered a unique protein on the immune cells, and upon careful research on its functions, he deduced that it also worked as a brake, but with a different mode of action to Allison’s. This development has also been hailed as a landmark achievement in the fight against cancer. These two scientists have developed two unique ways involving immune system brakes that can be employed in cancer therapy. What were some methods that they have used?
Allison was among the many scientists that observed the T-cell protein CTLA-4 can function as a brake on the T-cells. A discovery that was utilized to fight autoimmune diseases. However, instead of concluding the research like his colleagues, Allison had different ideas about this landmark development. He had already come up with an antibody that could block CTLA-4 and inhibit its work. That is why he began investigating whether the CTLA-4 blockade can release the T-cell brake and allow the immune system to attack malignant cells.

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Together with his workmates, Allison performed the first experiment on mice in 1994, and the results were very good. Allison’s work was not recognized as much, at least not until 2010, when his method was used to treat patients with advanced skin cancer. Results were quite exemplary as cancer disappeared in many patients.
Tasuku Honjo, on the other hand, discovered the PD-1, another protein that is found the T-cell surface in 1992. Through meticulous tests and studies at Kyoto University, Honjo revealed that the PD-1 protein works as a T-cell brake like the CTLA-4. However, it does this via a different mode of action. PD-1 acts as a T-cell brake that prevents the latter’s activation. The antibodies against PD-1 inhibit the brake’s function, hence, the T-cells activation and a very effective way of attacking malignant cells (“The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2018”). Studies in 2012 showed that this method is effective in cancer treatment in conditions that had previously been rendered untreatable. How can this contribution help medicine?
The clinical development of this cancer therapy, also referred to as the immune checkpoint therapy has been quite dramatic and revolutionizing. It has helped alter the therapeutic outcomes of some patients with some types of cancer. However, like other methods of cancer therapy, the immune checkpoint therapy also has its side-effects, which scientists are trying to limit in order to enhance its efficacy. Of the two types of treatment, PD-1 has been rendered more effective in addressing several cancer types such as melanoma, renal cancer, lymphoma, and lung cancer. Regardless, new clinical studies show that a combination therapy involving CTLA-4 and PD-1 will be revolutionary in the fight against cancer. Checkpoint therapy has been quite effective in dealing with cancer. It has given hope to many patients and health practitioners. In short, the future looks bright in the strive to deal with cancer, thanks to these two laureates.
Work Cited
“The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2018.” Nobelprize.org, www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2018/press-release/.

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