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American, Japanese academics win Nobel Prize in Medicine for cancer research

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American James Allison and Japanese Tasuku Honjo won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discoveries leading to new approaches in harnessing the immune system to fight cancer, the award-giving body announced on Monday.

“Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for inhibiting the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer,” the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said, on awarding 9 million Swedish crowns ($1.28 million Cdn).

Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year. The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were created in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901.

The literature prize will not be handed out this year after the awarding body was hit by a sexual misconduct scandal.

Both laureates studied proteins that prevent the body and its main immune cells, known as T-cells, from attacking tumour cells effectively.

Harnessing immune cells

Allison, a professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre, studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system and realized the potential for unleashing immune cells to attack tumours if the brake could be released.

Honjo, who has been a professor at Kyoto University since 1984, separately discovered a second protein on immune cells and revealed that it too operated as a brake, but with a different mechanism.

“The seminal discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer,” the institute said.

The laureate medal featuring the portrait of Alfred Nobel. Swedish inventor and scholar Alfred Nobel, who made a vast fortune from his invention of dynamite in 1866, ordered the creation of the famous Nobel awards in his will. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Last year’s prize went to three Americans for work in identifying genes and proteins that work in the body’s biological clock, which affects functions such as sleep patterns, blood pressure and eating habits.

The Nobel Prize in Physics is to be announced Tuesday, followed by chemistry. The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be named Friday and the economics laureate will be announced next Monday. 

With files from The Associated Press



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