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Cancer research and lasers win big at the 2018 Nobel Prize

by TR Pakistan

The Nobel Prize Committee in Stockholm has announced the winners of the 2018 prizes in the categories of Physics and Medicine.

Three scientists working in the field of laser physics have been awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. One half of the award to Arthur Ashkin of Bell Laboratories, Holmdel, USA for his optical tweezers and their application to biological systems. The other half has been jointly awarded to Gérard Mourou of the University of Michigan and Donna Strickland of the University of Waterloo for their method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses.

At the age of 96, the inventor of the optical tweezers is the oldest person in history to win a Nobel prize. Meanwhile, Strickland is the first woman to win a Nobel prize in Physics in 55 years.

Ashkin was able to successfully use the radiation pressure of light to move and grab physical objects — including particles, atoms and viruses. His first breakthrough in this field happened in 1987, when he used his tweezers to capture living bacteria without harming them.

Read more: Pakistani Professor Wins UNESCO Prize for Microbiology

Mourou and Strickland, however, won half of the nine-million Swedish kroner prize for creating the shortest and most intense laser pulses in history, without destroying the amplifying material. Their method — called chirped pulse amplification — involves stretching the laser pulses in time to reduce their peak power, amplifying them and finally compressing them. The process packs more light into a tiny space, increasing the intensity of the pulse. This technology can be utilized in corrective eye surgeries, which use laser beams.

Nobel Prize in Medicine goes to immune checkpoint therapy

James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo have been awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.

The award was announced by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet on Monday.

Allison studied a known protein that functions as a ‘break’ on the immune system. He realised the potential of releasing this break, so it could unleash immune cells to attack malignant growths in the human body. He developed this concept into a new approach to treat cancer patients.

Concurrently, Honjo discovered a protein cell with a similar ‘break’ function but a different mechanism of action. Therapies based on this discovery have proven to be highly effective.

The two immunologists’ discoveries constitute a landmark in humanity’s fight against cancer. However, using the immune system to attack tumour cells is not a new concept. This is an idea that first emerged at the end of the 19th century. Attempts were made to activate patients’ immune systems by infecting them with bacteria. Today, a variation on this strategy is used to treat bladder cancer.

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