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Nobel Prize 2018

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Two scientists who discovered how to harness the body’s immune system to fight cancer have won the 2018 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine, James Allison, of the US, and Tasuku Honjo, of Japan.

The scientists’ ground-breaking work on the immune system has paved the way for a new class of cancer drugs that are already dramatically changing outcomes for patients. It is the first time the development of a cancer therapy has been recognised with a Nobel prize.

The immune system normally seeks out and destroys mutated cells, but cancer finds sophisticated ways to hide from immune attacks. One way is by ramping up braking mechanisms designed to prevent immune cells from attacking normal tissue. In the 1990s, Allison discovered the first of these built-in brakes, known as checkpoints. Other teams were investigating the potential of enhancing the action of checkpoints to treat autoimmune diseases, but Allison showed that doing the reverse – switching off the brakes – could produce remarkable results in treating mice with cancer.

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Nobel Prize

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