The 2018 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to two researchers working on checkpoint inhibitor therapies for cancer. A source article by AFP, shared by medical express, outlines how checkpoint inhibitors work and what they could mean for the future of cancer treatment.
The Basics of Checkpoint Inhibitor Therapies
Checkpoint inhibitors are a form of immunotherapy that works by blocking certain proteins that prevent the body’s immune system from attacking cancer cells. By doing this, they allow the body’s T cells (a type of white blood cell) to fight the cancer.
The Nobel-Winning Research
Tasuku Honjo from Japan and James Allison from the United States jointly won the Nobel Prize for their work in finding and researching two checkpoint inhibitor molecules. Honjo identified PD-1, while Allison discovered CTLA-4 around the same time in 1995. After identifying the molecules, the researchers worked on blocking them, which would allow the immune system to start attacking the cancer cells.
Checkpoint Inhibitors and Chemotherapy
Many conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, destroy a lot of healthy cells as well as the cancerous cells, which can lead to serious side-effects for patients. Checkpoint inhibitors are often described as more targeted compared to these drugs because the immune system is able to target cancer cells.
Although checkpoint inhibitor therapies are a promising area of research, they may not be equally effective in all cancers. According to the source article, immunotherapies have been found to control as much as 20 to 50% of some advanced melanomas, but these types of treatment are showing less effect in other forms of cancer, such as pancreatic and brain cancers. Although many experts are predicting that immunotherapies won’t replace existing cancer treatments, they are hopeful that, within the next few years, they will be increasingly used alongside existing therapies.