A cell biologist was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine yesterday for his discoveries about the immune system but hours later his university said that he had been dead for three days.
The Nobel committee had been unaware of Canadian-born Ralph Steinman's death and it was unclear whether the prize would be rescinded because Nobel statutes don't allow posthumous awards.
Subject of his own discovery: Ralph Steinman proved the importance of his Nobel prize-winning research by using his own discoveries to fight the pancreatic cancer that eventually killed him days before the award was announced
Steinman (68), who shared the 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) prize with American Bruce Beutler and French scientist Jules Hoffmann, died on September 30 of pancreatic cancer, according to Rockefeller University.
It said Steinman's life had been extended with immunotherapy based on the discovery for which he won the Nobel Prize.
Beutler and Hoffmann were cited for their discoveries of receptor proteins that can recognise bacteria and other microorganisms as they enter the body, and activate the first line of defence in the immune system, known as innate immunity.
The trio's discoveries have enabled the development of improved vaccines against infectious diseases. In the long term they could also yield better treatments of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes, committee members said. Nobel officials said they believed it was the first time that a laureate had died before the announcement without the committee's knowledge.
"I think you can safely say that this hasn't happened before," said Nobel Foundation spokeswoman Annika Pontikis.
Nobel committee member Goran Hansson said the medicine committee didn't know Steinman was dead when it chose him as a winner. "It is incredibly sad news," Hansson said. "We can only regret that he didn't have the chance to receive the news he had won the Nobel Prize. Our thoughts are now with his family." Beutler is professor of genetics and immunology at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. Hoffmann headed a research laboratory in France. Steinman had been affiliated with Rockefeller University. "We are all so touched that our father's many years of hard work are being recognised with a Nobel Prize," said Steinman's daughter Alexis. �