James Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel Prize in Medicine

James Allison, pictured left, and Tasuku Honjo won the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Story highlights

  • The pair's research harnesses the body's immune system to attack cancer cells
  • "We are making progress now," one laureate tells cancer patients

(CNN)American James Allison and Japan's Tasuku Honjo have won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine for a pioneering approach to cancer treatment.

The Nobel committee said the pair's research -- which harnesses the body's immune system to attack cancer cells -- amounted to a "landmark in our fight against cancer." The approach, known as immune checkpoint theory, had "revolutionized cancer treatment and has fundamentally changed the way we view how cancer can be managed," the committee said.
    James Allison works at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
    Allison said Monday that his son called at 5:30 a.m. and was the first to tell him that he'd won. Later in the morning, the Nobel committee called Allison with the news.
      "I'm still in sort of a state of shock, and this is all still sinking in," Allison said.
      "I was told by the Nobel committee when I was called this morning that this was the first prize they've ever given for cancer therapy," he said. "I'd like to just give a shout out to all the patients out there who are suffering from cancer to let them know that we are making progress now."
      Allison, chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. Releasing the brake allowed immune cells to attack tumors, he found.
        The discovery led to effective treatments, specifically some called immune checkpoint blockade therapies.
        "I'm a basic scientist. I did not get into these studies to try to cure cancer. I got into them because I wanted to know how T cells work," Allison said.
        T cells, a type of white blood cell, are part of the immune system and help protect the body from infection and may help fight cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
        Hope and hype around cancer immunotherapy