Science

US and Japanese scientists to share Nobel prize for cancer work

James Allison and Tasuku Honjo have carried out parallel projects to help the body's immune system attack tumours.

An American and a Japanese scientist have jointly been awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology for their “landmark” breakthrough in the fight against cancer.

James Allison of the University of Texas and Tasuku Honjo of Japan’s Kyoto University did parallel work to stimulate the body’s immune system’s ability to attack tumours.

The two winners made discoveries that “constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer”, according to a statement from the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute that awarded the prize.

Dr Allison studied a protein that acts as a brake on the immune system and the potential of releasing that brake.

Mr Honjo separately discovered a new protein on immune cells and eventually found that it also acts as a brake.

“Therapies based on his discovery proved to be strikingly effective in the fight against cancer,” the assembly said in a statement.

Releasing the potential of immune cells to attack cancers joins other treatments including surgery, radiation and drugs.

One famous recipient of the new treatment is former US president Jimmy Carter.

Mr Carter was diagnosed in 2015 with the skin cancer melanoma, which had spread to his brain.

He was treated with a drug inspired by the research of Mr Honjo, and announced in 2016 that he no longer needed treatment.

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