Scientist Awarded Nobel Prize Just Days After Death
October 3, 2011

Scientist Awarded Nobel Prize Just Days After Death

A scientist awarded the Nobel prize for his research in cancer died of the disease just days before he was told about the award.

Ralph Steinman of New York's Rockefeller University was a 68-year-old physician who died on Friday after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer before finding out about being awarded the highest accolade in science.

Colleagues of his said he had prolonged his own life with a new therapy based on his research into the body's immune system.

The Nobel is normally not awarded to those who have passed, but Sweden's Nobel Committee said it was considering how to reconcile the announcement with its policy of not making posthumous awards. 

The committee said it learned of Steinman's death two hours after declaring the winner of the award.

"It's really impossible to describe how our family is feeling right now. We're devastated to have lost Ralph," Steinman's son Adam told reporters in New York. "We're so incredibly proud of dad for receiving this wonderful honor ... We know he will live on through his scientific contributions."

Steinman was admitted to the hospital on Sunday last week, where he lost consciousness on Thursday and died on Friday. 

Reuters reported that Nobel Committee secretary general Goran Hansson said the poignant situation only became apparent there when his staff could not reach Steinman to tell him of the prize.

"I am, of course, saddened that Dr Steinman could not receive this news and feel that happiness," Hansson told Reuters.  "He was a great scientist."

Steinman was born in Montreal, Canada in 1943 where the studied biology and chemistry at McGill University.  He received his MD in 1968 from Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.  He was the director of Rockefeller University's Center for Immunology and Immune Diseases.

The Nobel Committee said in a statement the award was given to Steinman, Bruce Beutler and Jules Hoffmann because the three had revealed how the innate and adaptive phases of the immune response are activated and helped provide insights into disease mechanisms.

"Their work has opened up new avenues for the development of prevention and therapy against infections, cancer, and inflammatory diseases," the committee said in a press release.


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