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On Monday, the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan for their work on unleashing the immune system’s ability to attack cancer, a breakthrough in developing new cancer treatments.

In the 1990’s Dr. Allison and Dr. Honjo, working separately, showed how certain proteins act as “brakes” on the immune system’s T-cells, limiting their ability to attack cancer cells, and that suppressing those proteins could transform the body’s ability to fight cancer.

Until their breakthroughs cancer treatment consisted of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Their work led to a fourth class of treatment, harnessing the immune system, what the Nobel committee at the Karolinska Institute called “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.”

76 year old Dr. Honjo, is a longtime professor at Kyoto University, where he did his breakthrough work. 70 year old Dr. Allison, is chairman of immunology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

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