4 Oct 2011

Nobel Prize dilemma resolved

3:14 pm on 4 October 2011

The Nobel Prize Foundation says a Canadian scientist awarded the prize for medicine will remain a Nobel Laureate, despite dying before the win was announced.

Professor Ralph Steinman, Bruce Beutler and Jules Hoffmann were chosen for the award for their work on the human immune system.

Professor Steinman discovered the dendritic cell, which helps the body fight off infection.

But after the announcement on Monday, as the Nobel jury was still trying to reach the candidates, it emerged that he died of pancreatic cancer on Friday.

The Nobel Prize is not given post-humously, but the foundation says Professor Steinmen will still receive it as the decision was made in good faith.

It says this is unprecedented in the history of the Nobel Prize.

Professor Steinman, 68, died on Friday without being aware of his award, after using his own discoveries to extend his life.

His research contributed to the launch last year of the first vaccine which is designed to kill tumours. He also won the 2007 Lasker Prize for his work.

Professor Steinman headed the centre of immunology and immune diseases at Rockefeller University in New York.

He was awarded the prize jointly with Professor Beutler, 55, from the United States and Jules Hoffmann, 70, of France, for their work on understanding the body's immune system.

The award is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($US1.43 million).

Medicine is usually the first of the Nobel prizes awarded each year. They were first awarded in 1901.

Only two Nobel Prizes have been awarded posthumously. They were both to Swedes: poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt for literature in 1931 and UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, who died in a plane crash in Africa in 1961.