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Cancer immunotherapy recognized with the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2018 has been jointly awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation". At ICMAB, we also work on projects related to cancer immunotherapy and we are very excited about this prize. However, the strategy followed by our researchers and by the Nobel Prize winners is somehow different. Do you want to know why?

Immune Checkpoint Blockade

The strategy followed by James P. Allison, professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Tasuku Honjo, professor at Kyoto University in Japan, follows the innovative concept of "Immune Checkpoint Blockade" as a cancer treatment. They discovered the brakes that activate and deactivate T cells. T cells are the type of white blood cells that can identify and kill cancer cells. A T cell must be activated before it can attack cancer cells. However, cancer cells can avoid being killed if they deactivate the T cell by a switch called immune checkpoint. Drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors can block this switch, which allows T cells to keep attacking cancer cells. This treatment, called immune checkpoint blockade therapy, has been shown to produce remarkable results in treating lung cancer, renal cancer, lymphoma and melanoma.

 "According to Thomas Perlmann, secretary general of the Nobel Committee, the Nobel Committee chose to highlight Allison and Honjo to reflect the basic science that created a new “pillar” of cancer therapy." (Scientific American)

2018 Nobel Prize Physiology Medicine 768x768

Adoptive Cell Therapy

On the other hand, the research carried out by ICMAB researchers Judith Guasch and Imma Ratera, follows the strategy of Carl H. June, professor at the University of Pennsylvania. This strategy called "Adoptive Cell Therapy" consists of genetically modifying and expanding T cells to enhance their efficiency at detecting and attacking malignant cells. More specifically, T cells are collected from the patient's blood, modified, expanded and reinjected into the patient, where they attack the cancer cells. This treatment has been shown to be effective in some terminal leukemia patients and is currently investigated for other types of cancers. Moreover, it has been shown to offer long-term protection to the patients, thus acting as a “vaccine”. However, this personalized strategy still requires laborious and expensive laboratory procedures, since it works with the T cells of each patient. 

At ICMAB, Judith and Imma are designing new 3D hydrogels to resemble the natural environment of the T cells in our bodies in order to achieve a more efficient expansion and manipulation of these T cells in the laboratory and, therefore, reduce the time and costs of this immunotherapy.

Congratulations to the Nobel Prize winners, James P. Allison and Tasuki Honjo, and congratulations also to Carl H. June, for exploring another approach of cancer immunotherapy!

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