Prelims cum Mains Science & Tech

US, Japanese pair win Nobel Medicine Prize for cancer therapy

The News

  • James Allison of the US and Tasuku Honjo of Japan won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work on Immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy for the treatment of cancer.

 

 

Highlights

  • Immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy has revolutionized the way we look at cancer therapy by using our body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.
  • While traditional forms of cancer treatment directly targets cancer cells, Immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy help the patient’s own im­mune system tackle the cancer.
  • Thus it is a fundamentally different way of treating cancer.

 

 

How does it work?

  • T­-cells are a type of white blood cells that play a central role in the body’s natural immunity to disease.
  • There are certain proteins in immune system cells including cancer cells that act as a break on these t-cells thus affecting the natural defense of the body’s immune system.
  • The therapy involves targeting these proteins thus inhibiting the ‘break’ mechanism of these inhibitory proteins, thus restoring the function of t-cells in the body’s immune system.

 

Immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy

  • The discovery found that there are 2 proteins- PD-1 and CTLA-4, that inhibit the action of our immune system.
  • The T-cells in the immune system which are basically white blood cells are involved in fighting a foreign body like a cancer cell.
  • The proteins PD-1 and CTLA-4 work as brakes in the immune system.
  • When these proteins bind with the T-cell, it stops fighting the foreign body and the immune system stops working.
  • The proteins can stop the body’s natural defences from killing cancer cells.
  • In some cases, some cancer cells also contain these proteins.
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy involves inhibiting these brakes, so that the immune system continues to fight and is capable of fighting against cancer cells.
  • Thus by removing these proteins from the equation allows immune cells called T-cells to attack the cancer.
  • Inhibiting such brakes has cured lung cancer, renal cancer, lymphoma and melanoma.

 

Autoimmune reactions: A challenge

  • While the treatment is effective in avoiding harmful effects produced by toxins during chemotherapy, it can trigger autoimmune reactions.
  • Autoimmune reactions may lead to body’s own cells being treated as foreign bodies and the immune system fights against the healthy cells.

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