We have entered a new era of Cancer chemotherapy, thanks largely in part to the work of two passionate researchers in the field, James Allison of the University of Texas and Dr. Tasuku Honjo from Kyoto University in Japan.
This week, both men were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of two different proteins on T-cells which act like brakes on a car, preventing our immune system from attacking our own normal cells. Their investigations showed that cancer can also activate these “brakes” (called checkpoints), preventing the destruction of cancer cells by our immune system.
This revelation paved the way for the development of checkpoint inhibitors, the first drugs of their kind to work by focusing on our immune system, rather than just targeting cancer cells. Checkpoint inhibitors block cancer cells from binding to checkpoints on T-cells, effectively releasing the “brakes” and allowing our T-cells to proliferate and attack cancer cells. Other scientists have since discovered several more molecular “brakes”, opening up a whole new avenue of anti-cancer targets.
For more information on checkpoint inhibitors see here.