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Nobel winner died days before award announced

Nobel Prize for medicine winner Ralph Steinman (right) died just days before the winners were announced



(CNN) -- One of the recipients of this year's Nobel Prize in medicine died just days before the winners were announced, after extending his own life using a kind of therapy he designed.

Ralph Steinman, a biologist with Rockefeller University, died of pancreatic cancer Friday at the age of 68, the university said in a statement Monday.

The news -- which the Nobel committee was unaware of when it announced the winners Monday -- presents a quandary for the prestigious organization. Nobel rules prohibit awarding a prize posthumously unless the winner dies after the award is announced.

"I think it's unique in the history of the Nobel Prize," said Goran Hansson, secretary-general of the Nobel assembly overseeing the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

A meeting was under way Monday to determine what will happen, Hansson told CNN.

In a statement, the Nobel committee expressed "deep sadness and regret" at the news.

Rockefeller University said Steinman "discovered the immune system's sentinel dendritic cells and demonstrated that science can fruitfully harness the power of these cells and other components of the immune system to curb infections and other communicable diseases."

"He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago, and his life was extended using a dendritic-cell based immunotherapy of his own design," the university said in a statement.

Half the prize went to Steinman. The committee that awarded the prizes noted Steinman's "discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity."

The other half went to Bruce A. Beutler and Jules A. Hoffmann "for their discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity."

In its announcement Monday morning, the Nobel committee made no mention of Steinman's death.

Hansson said the decision about who wins is made immediately before the news conference. Hansson had tried to call Steinman to inform him of the good news.

The Nobel Prize website states that since 1974, rules have stipulated that a prize "cannot be awarded posthumously, unless death has occurred after the announcement."

In 1996, William Vickrey died days after the announcement that he had won the Nobel Prize in economics.

Before 1974, two people received Nobel Prizes posthumously -- Dag Hammarskjold won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961, and Erik Axel Karlfeldt won for literature in 1931.

Monday's announcement about the winners kicked off a week of awards that will also honor achievements in physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute said Beutler, Hoffmann and Steinman have "revolutionized our understanding of the immune system by discovering key principles for its activation."

"Bruce Beutler and Jules Hoffmann discovered receptor proteins that can recognize such microorganisms and activate innate immunity, the first step in the body's immune response," the committee said in a written statement. "Ralph Steinman discovered the dendritic cells of the immune system and their unique capacity to activate and regulate adaptive immunity, the later stage of the immune response during which microorganisms are cleared from the body."

The Nobel laureates' discoveries and work has opened up new opportunities for the development of prevention and therapy against infections, cancer and inflammatory diseases, the committee said.

The prize in medicine, worth 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.5 million), went last year to Robert G. Edwards -- "the father of the test tube baby."

Since the first birth from in vitro fertilization in 1978, Edwards' work has led to the birth of about 4 million babies, the awards committee said in praising his work.

On Tuesday, the committee will announce its award for achievement in physics. The next day, the winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry will be announced.

The committee will announce the most anticipated of the annual honors -- the Nobel Peace Prize -- on Friday.

On October 10, the committee will announce its award for the prize for economics.

Since 1901, the committee has handed out the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 101 times. The youngest recipient was Frederick G. Banting, who won in 1923 at the age of 32. The oldest medicine laureate was Peyton Rous, who was 87 years old when he was awarded the prize in 196

Monday , 3   October , 2011