Interview with Tasuku Honjo, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine 2018

the first message I received from
another foundation was by telephone call it was around the 5:00 p.m. of October
1st and actually people told me something happens maybe before 4 o’clock
so we are completely free out of these things and we’re concentrating with my
colleague about the our paper in the manuscript editing and suddenly my
secretary came with some stiff face and nope that they opened the door and you
have to take the phone so I was not so sure what’s going on something bad or
good I took the phone and the person recording was said dr. Perlman so I made
it to catch the point and then I had a very nice and pleasant conversation but
often I heard there is a fake call and so of course he also mentioned I asked
him to send the email to just confirm and I won so I received the email it was
real and so we told everybody in the love and of course my family and other
kind of the good exciting celebration – I mean the nice picture. And
the picture we took then was posted on the website of the Nobel Foundation so
it was a very exciting and a pleasant and unforgettable incidence in my life there are several reasons first I have
to decide whether go to medical school or law school or several other choices
of course I went to medical school are strongly influenced by my father and
also I mean the family reason and secondly I read the biography of Hideo
Noguchi who was the very interesting doctor with the United States in his 20s
and become professor in the Rockefeller Institute and he found these ciphers as
a cause of the policies and also he died in Ghana during his study on the yellow
fever pathogen so that was very striking and I went medical school and the other
reason I’ve had a friend only a father and son and he died of the stomach
cancer very acute and I was very much you know very sad and I thought what I
can do anything for this type of the diseases so cancer immunotherapy has been I mean
idea has been around many decades before Jim Allison and myself demonstrated in
the above system the reason why many people failed one after another is they
didn’t realize the immune system is already suppressed by the tumor growth
so if we push the accelerator of the immune system while the immune system is
under the strong brake there is no way they can drive the immune system forth
and only the people find the major immune negative regulator means a break
that was say therefore and pd1 and Jim Allison first showed say therefore
blockade can cure the cancer in animal model and soon after we found a pit I
mean the we found a pity one before but we demonstrated pd-1 blockade can also
cure the cancer unfortunately the pretty one is less toxic video and blockade I
mean and has chronic and now it used in a wide spectrum of tumors starting from
melanoma lung cancer renal cancer stomach cancer meaning that’s slightly
advantage of the PD one over C therefore C therefore has a very strong activity
and sometime too strong also a bit side effect is stronger
I received many prizes of course before the novel prize and this is a probably
last prize I get but I felt when I see the patient and saying they were saved
by the therapy we developed is the most moving and also the time I feel my life
has some meat so that was the very very you know unforgettable and I was so very
touchy and I feel I feel about it I’m not the clinician but I’ve involved some
clinical trials and the one lady who had a big tumor
this is ovarian tumor and doctor of course thought hopeless but she
recovered and there was almost five years ago and treatment lasted one year
and she is still tumor free and enjoying her life one time I saw she playing golf
so there was a real amazing and similar story
I pray golf myself and I have a friend who told me this is my last round
in my life because I had lung cancer but if what about maybe half a year was so
later he came back and I just started the treatment you developed and he just
completely cured was fantastic well unfortunately the our treatment is still
not complete only 20 to 30 percent our responders and we have a long way to go
but now this is the just beginning and many many scientists in the industry
jumped in so I hope this therapy of the or widely used and reach to the almost
everybody in the world hopefully by the end of the century
just like the infectious diseases almost completely eradicated in during the last
century I hope the century will be remembered at
the century of the cancer treatment that’s my yes I think so always especially in the life science we
don’t know exactly where is the best target nobody knows which mountain we
should crime we have to try many things so for that purpose everybody has to
think different idea and have to discussion so diversity are including
everything gender nationality different culture maybe age you have some very
brave young people very brave that’s good and each people has more experience
and that’s very important well to make yourself a good scientist I always say
first you have to have curiosity if you don’t have any curiosity you better
choose something else and then we so to be good scientists we have to solve
something new so something new usually not easy because it’s difficult that why
it remains unknown so you need enough courage to tackle this difficult
problems and you need a courage and that is a challenge so challenge with courage
and I call this three primary see and then once you decide to tackle you have
to concentrate and continue and the eventually you build up
confidence so this is another three see that’s my what I tell to my students I never tried to keep my curiosity it
comes from inside when I learned something in you I always oh this is
quite interesting but why and curiously just endless it comes from inside well there are civil level as a general
science the first incident I was enchanted of charmed by the years
Natural Science is the very tiny tiny ring around the Saturn which is watched
through the telescope at the elementary school that was first I got very much
interested want to be astronomer and I read many books but then later switched
the medicine because I read a biography of a Hideo Noguchi and the second very
critical moment maybe the time to come back to Japan so I was another big
choice in my life whether I stay in United States keep going
and many people advised to stay but I decided to go back to Japan
that’s 74 other kind of turning point in both cases
I was very fortunate my decision was correct or correct because I made
something retrospectively well for my science I have so many important mentor
or advisor the first mentor Osama Hayashi who discovered oxygen gas oxygen
directing cooperation into the organic compounds gave my solid background in
science and also international fearing science has to be international it’s not
the local thing and the next person who opened my eye to the molecular minerals
is Donald Brown of Carnegie Institution of Washington and without him I never go
into this particular field and then I went to very latest laboratory where I
actually started this antibody diversification so those three are very
important during my scientific career well I didn’t have any resistant
fortunately my parents very supportive in a very different psychologically and
financially they support it and then the my family a wife and children I was kind
of work Holly I don’t spend much time with my family I feel sorry for them but
they just allowed me to concentrate on the my research so I’m very fortunate so
playing golf I completely forget about the science and I concentrate but the
the reason why I like golf game it’s not a competition it’s kind of the fight
against yourself for example if you hit a bad shot you
get angry but you get angry against yourself and always you have to think
very carefully because every time you hit the ball run into different
conditions sometimes grass thick sometimes you know different weather and
you always have to think but it’s a different type of challenge but I can
completely forget about my science and it’s also very enjoyable for scientific career I think I made two
major contributions one is the I found the molecular mechanism for the antibody
diversity namely antigen induced antibody diversity class switch
recombination and somatic mutation and this pd-1 break discovery and its
application to cancer immunotherapy but these days I’m still working so I’m very
much pleased this of my two lines now coming to very close because can see me
no therapy depends Lots on your gut microbiota and gut microbiota regulation
depends on IG a secretion and the molecule I discovered for antigen
induced memory AI D does I found another important molecule and do two molecules
collaborate to maintain our gut microbiota and this is important for
homeostasis and also anti-tumor immunity so that’s my scientific contribution but
for for the person life I had a family and two children fortunately both doing
well some is the medical doctor physician and daughter is the
embryologist working science field and what’s rest I also served
the administration in the medical school and I also served as the scientific
adviser to the Prime Minister almost 10 years ago and I don’t know whether I
made something through this type of the administrative work but at least I tried
to improve scientific environment


  1. You Sir have joined the ranks of Edward Jenner and Tu Youyou… the true Pantheon. Many people who destroy life go down in the history books, but the only people who can truly say their life was glorious are the life-savers. Thank you.

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