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  • Ralph Steinman awarded 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, dies at age 68

    Renowned for his discovery of dendritic cells, the cell biologist and immunologist died Friday of pancreatic cancer, just days before the prize announcement.

    Posted 10/4/2011

    "I don't like superlatives," Ralph M. Steinman wrote in The New York Academy of Sciences Magazine, "but if I had to try to describe my most important accomplishment, it was to discover a new dendritic cell lineage of white blood cells and to show that it initiates and controls immunity."

    For this discovery and his subsequent contributions to the advancement of immunology research and health care, Steinman earned numerous awards, including the National Cancer Research Institute William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Immunology (1998), the Robert Koch Prize (1999), the Gairdner Foundation International Award (2003), the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research (2007), and the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research (2009).

    The most recent and most famous of these awards, however, came yesterday when Steinman, jointly with Bruce Beutler and Jules A. Hoffmann, won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity." Although Steinman passed away three days before the announcement was made, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute has allowed this posthumous honor to stand.

    Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago, Steinman was himself a beneficiary of his own research. According to Rockefeller University, Steinman was able to extend his life through a dendritic-cell based immunotherapy of his own design. He was 68 years old.

    Steinman was the Henry G. Kunkel Professor in Rockefeller University's Laboratory of Cellular Physiology and Immunohematology, a senior physician at The Rockefeller University Hospital, and head of the Laboratory of Cellular Physiology and Immunology. He received his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1968.

    A longtime member of the Academy, Steinman edited two volumes of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (Cancer Vaccines: Sixth International Symposium and Human Immunology: Patient-Based Research) and is featured in the Academy's "Join the Conversation" video.

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    New York Academy of Sciences promotional video featuring Steinman and others.

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