Cancer immunotherapy wins the 2018 medicine Nobel Prize

Two researchers are honored for therapies that unleash immune systems brakes against cancer

T cell

UNLEASHED This year’s Nobel laureates found brakes that keep immune cells called T cells (one shown) from attacking cancer. The laureates’ innovations remove those brakes, allowing the immune system to fight tumors.


James P. Allison of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University in Japan have won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for advances in harnessing the immune system to fight cancer.

All previous types of cancer therapy were directed at the tumor cell, but Allison’s and Honjo’s approach was to remove brakes that keep the immune system in check, unleashing it against tumor cells. These “checkpoint inhibitor” therapies have greatly increased survival of cancer patients and may produce even greater results when combined with traditional therapies. 

The researchers will equally share the prize of 9 million kronor, equivalent to just over $1 million.

Read the full story about Allison’s and Honjo’s Nobel Prize–winning work.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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