STOCKHOLM - A professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was among two people Monday who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Jim Allison, the chairman of the center’s Immunology Department and executive director of the immunotherapy platform, was recognized by the Nobel Committee along with Japan’s Tasuku Honjo for the pair’s pioneering research into cancer treatment.
"Cancer kills millions of people every year and is one of humanity's greatest health challenges," the Nobel committee said on Twitter. "By stimulating the ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells, this year's #NobelPrize laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy."
"I’m honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition," Allison said. "A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge. I didn’t set out to study cancer, but to understand the biology of T cells -- these incredible cells travel to our bodies and work to protect us."
Allison began his career at MD Anderson in 1977.
Allison 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.
Allison is the first MD Anderson scientist to receive the world's most preeminent award for outstanding discoveries in the fields of life sciences and medicine.
“I’m honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition,” Allison said in a written statement. “A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge. I didn’t set out to study cancer, but to understand the biology of T cells, these incredible cells that travel our bodies and work to protect us.”
Allison said his research began by studying the immune system and he stumbled upon this idea as a way to treat cancer, the same disease that killed his mother.
The MD Anderson immunologist was featured in a 2015 report by KPRC2.
Many of Allison’s patients are alive and cancer free because of his approach. His research has also helped former President Jimmy Carter, who was diagnosed in 2015 with skin cancer which had spread to his brain. He announced about a year later that he no longer needed treatment.
Allison's fellow researchers at MD Anderson said they were proud of his accomplishments.
"He's not just a scientist, but an incredible human being and (an) incredible mentor. We're very excited for him obviously and I think it gives us renewed focus and inspiration to do even greater work to help the patients," said Dr. Cassian Yee, a longtime friend and colleague of Dr. Allison.
About Honjo's research
Honjo, who has worked as a professor at Kyoto University in Japan for the past 34 years, discovered a protein on immune cells and illustrated how that, too, can operate as a breakthrough with a different action. Therapies based on his method have also proved effective in fighting cancer.
Editor's note: The headline on this story has been updated to clarify that Allison holds a Ph.D.
Copyright 2018 KPRC/CNN