Overview of The Nobel Prize 2018 – Part 1

Up to now, three different Nobel Prizes concerning science and technology have been published and awarded to several scientists who each made a big difference in their own fields of study. These three prizes are in physiology and medicine, physics, chemistry respectively. In this article, Physiology award and part of the half of the physics award will be given general overviews, simple explanations and discussed briefly.

  1. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2018

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation. James P. Allison studied a protein that functions as a brake on the immune system. He realized the potential of releasing the brake and unleashing our immune cells to attack tumours. He developed this concept into a new approach for treating patients.

Applying the immune system to fight against diseases is not rare in history. Smallpox was prevented by the bovine vaccination. In 1796, Edward Jenner, an English physician, discovered that by inoculating a person with pustules from the pox infection of a cow, smallpox could be prevented. In the 1960s, a special type of white blood cells was found and named T cells. It identifies external threats using a molecule called T cell receptor (TCR). Further study shows that it is likely that a protein named CD28 (attached to T cells) could be the key to the function of T cells. Dr. James Allison proved that another protein called CTLA-4 had similar functions to CD28. Several years later, the study showed that although CD28 and CTLA-4 had similar structures but totally inversed functions: CD28 is the accelerator while CTLA-4 is the brake. Then scientists realized that if we could control the action of CTLA-4, T cells can release their full potential without limitation. Dr. Allison found that if the theory would work out, this would be the first time that humans were able to fight against cancers with the help of the immune system. Finally, the theory got places to be applied by using anti-CTLA-4. Surprisingly, the therapy helped 20% of the patients survive for more than 4 years, the percentage is 0% for the control group.

Dr. Tasuku Honjo is the professor of immunology at Kyoto University. He and his team explored the cDNA that might take part in programmed cell death. They named the first gene PD-1 (programmed cell death protein 1). After some experiments, they found that PD-1 functioned as suppression of the immune system in mice. Also, they suggested in a key experiment that PD-1 held the suppressive effect of T cells. Finally, they also relate this discovery to cancer treatments, which helps with medical science to a great extent.

  1. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2018

Arthur Ashkin has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems.”

Arthur Ashkin aged 96 shared half of the prize. He invented optical tweezers technology, that is to say, we can use a laser beam to manipulate microscopic particles (atoms, molecules) and tiny objects (bacteria, virus) like a pair of tweezers. The basic principle behind optical tweezers is the momentum transfer associated with bending light. Light carries the momentum that is proportional to its energy and in the direction of propagation. Any change in the direction of light, by reflection or refraction, will result in a change of the momentum of the light. If an object bends the light, changing its momentum, conservation of momentum requires that the object must undergo an equal and opposite momentum change. This gives rise to a force acting on the object.

In 1970, Ashkin worked at Bell Laboratories invented the optical tweezers technology then it was widely applied in biology research to manipulate biomacromolecules and cells, it helped with several different fields of biological study.