China's cancer researcher Zhu Chen won The Sjoberg Prize 2018, together with French researchers Anne Dejean and Hugues de The, for the unique treatment that cures a once fatal cancer, announced The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Monday night.
According to a statement from the The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the prize was awarded to them "for the clarification of molecular mechanisms and the development of a revolutionary treatment for acute promyelocytic leukaemia".
This year's Sjoberg Laureates have developed a new and targeted treatment for a specific form of blood cancer called acute promyelocytic leukaemia. It was once one of the deadliest forms of cancer, but it is now possible to cure nine out of ten patients who receive the new treatment, the release reads.
The treatment is unique because it is the first standard treatment for acute leukaemia that does not include chemotherapy. Instead, a combination treatment is used, which consists of a form of vitamin A, "all-trans retinoic acid", also called ATRA, along with arsenic trioxide.
The idea of using arsenic comes from traditional medicine, but this method has been scientifically tested and proven in this form. The Laureates have made this revolutionary development possible by methodically mapping the molecular mechanisms responsible for the disease.
By identifying a specific genetic mutation and aiding the destruction of a faulty protein in specific cells, it was possible to stop the process that resulted in death for three out of four patients. This treatment means the cancer cells disappear because they lose the ability to renew themselves.
These discoveries have been made in stages since the 1980s, and the treatment's effects have been confirmed in numerous scientific studies. In many countries, this treatment combination is now the first choice of treatment for acute promyelocytic leukaemia.
The three Laureates remain very active in the field of cancer research. Anne Dejean now primarily dedicates her research to continuing her studies of liver cancer, and to investigating the significance of protein modification in how cancer develops.
Hugues de The is interested in the potential for producing treatment methods for cancer that combine stimulating the cancer cells' maturation and blocking their ability to renew themselves, while Zhu Chen is investigating genetic and molecular changes in other forms of leukaemia.
Zhu Chen was quoted by the release as saying that he was honored to share the prize, "which recognizes important contributions to cancer research", with Dr. de The and Dr. Dejean.
"This prize means not only the glory, but even more importantly a responsibility, a responsibility for me, my team and our collaborators to continue efforts in the understanding of disease mechanisms of other types of haematological malignancies and to develop innovative, effective therapeutic strategies against those diseases through collaboration with other partners," Chen added.
Zhu Chen, born in 1953 in China, is now Professor at prestigious Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Anne Dejean, born in 1957 in France, is Professor at Institut Pasteur, France. Hugues de The, born in 1959 in France, is Professor at College de France, France.
The prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and is funded by the Sjoberg Foundation. The foundation, with a donation of two billion Swedish krona (about 2.5 billion U.S. dollars), was founded in 2016, and serves to promote scientific research that focuses on cancer, health and the environment.
The Prize is an annual international prize in cancer research awarded to individual researchers or research groups. The prize amounts to one million U.S. dollars, of which 100,000 U.S. dollars is the prize sum and 900,000 U.S. dollars is funding for future research.
Laureates are expected to conduct the official Sjoberg Prize Lecture at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm on April 12.