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A Nobel Afterlife

October 5, 2011

Brit Trogen

 

Montreal-born Ralph Steinman is either the luckiest or unluckiest scientist in history this week, depending on your perspective.

 

After years of groundbreaking work in immunotherapy, Steinman, along with scientists Bruce Beutler and Jules Hoffman, was awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the committee who selected him, Steinman had died of pancreatic cancer three days before the decision was reached.

 

It's well known that Nobel prizes are never awarded posthumously, with the sole exception being if the awardee dies between the time of announcement and the award ceremony in December. But in a happy twist, the Nobel committee has decided to honor their decision, leaving Steinman with a history-making legacy, and his survivors with the $1.5 million prize that goes with it.

 

Steinmen never knew that he won the award, but I'm fairly sure he could rest happily, knowing he was leaving behind an incredible legacy. His work, which included the 1972 discovery of dendritic cells, may someday be adapted into cancer treatments that can save the lives of others fighting the disease, which would be the most fitting tribute of all. 

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