Alfred Nobel created five prizes in 1895 in his will for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace. A sixth prize in economics was created, in Nobel’s memory, by Sweden’s central bank in 1968.
Each of the six Nobel prizes come with an award of 9 million Swedish kronor (roughly $1 million), which is shared among recipients of each award.
Nobel Prize in Medicine
2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded to James P. Allison, USA and Tasuku Honjo, Japan for identifying new approach to fight cancer. The nobel laureates have identified that cancer can be treated by stimulating the inherent ability of our immune system.
What is Cancer?
Cancer comprises many different diseases. All forms involve uncontrolled proliferation of abnormal cells. These cells can spread to healthy organs and tissues. Numerous treatments are available against cancer including surgery, radiation, and others.
What are the details?
James P. Allison studied a previously known protein that acts as a brake on the immune system. If this brake can be removed, it would release the potential of our immune system. This way our immune system would act against tumors. Based on this concept, he developed a new approach for treating patients.
Simultaneously, Tasuku Honjo discovered another protein on immune cells. This protein also acts as a brake on the immune system, but with a different mechanism.
Allison and Honjo showed how different strategies for releasing the brakes on the immune system can be used in the treatment of cancer. The discoveries by the two Laureates constitute a landmark in our fight against cancer.
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
The 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Frances H. Arnold, USA and the other half jointly to George P. Smith, USA and Sir Gregory P. Winter, UK for harnessing the power of evolution to develop new proteins used in drugs and medical treatments.
Arnold performed the first-ever “directed evolution” of enzymes – proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. She tailored enzymes to work differently by introducing genetic mutations. These mutations helped her produce multiple variants of a chosen enzyme. Out of these variants, she identified the useful ones.
Smith discovered a technique known as “phage display,” which uses bacteriophage — a virus that infects bacteria — to evolve new proteins. Bacteriophage infects bacteria in order to reproduce. It injects its genetic material into bacteria and controls the metabolism of the bacteria to produce more of itself. Smith also genetically engineered the bacteriophage in order to insert unknown genes to produce new proteins.
Winter used this method to direct the evolution of new antibodies — immune proteins that bind to and neutralize pathogens — with the aim of making new drugs.
The first drug created using the phage display method was adalimumab. It was approved in 2002 and is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases. Phage display has since been used to produce antibodies that can neutralize toxins, counteract autoimmune diseases and cure metastatic cancer.
Nobel Prize in Physics
Donna Strickland, Canada, was awarded jointly with Gérard Mourou, France, for their work on generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses. They share the award with an Arthur Ashkin, USA who developed “optical tweezers.”
Strickland and Mourou’s have developed very short and intense laser pulses, known as “chirped pulse amplification”. These pulses have made it possible to cut or drill holes in materials and living matter incredibly precisely. The technology they pioneered has led to corrective eye operations for millions of people.
Ashkin’s optical tweezers make it possible for scientists to hold, observe and move tiny objects with “laser beam fingers. “that means laboratories can examine and manipulate viruses, bacteria and other living cells without damaging them.”