Ralph Steinman, the Montreal-born immunologist who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine along with two other scientists on Monday, died on Friday of pancreatic cancer - never having learned that he would be awarded science's top honour. He was 68.
Steinman earned half the Nobel Prize for his 1973 discovery of what he called the dendritic cell - a finding that scientists say has greatly enhanced our understanding of how the body's adaptive immune system works, and that has paved the way for treatments for cancer and other diseases.
In fact, Steinman probably prolonged his own life with a therapy that was based on his original research, his sister-in-law told The Gazette. Steinman had been battling pancreatic cancer for the past 4½ years, and had been doing well until his health deteriorated suddenly in the past few weeks, Linda Steinman noted. "He was using his own immune therapy on his illness," she said.
Steinman was born at the Royal Victoria Hospital on Jan. 14, 1943. He grew up in Sherbrooke with his brothers, Seymour and Mark, as well as sister Joni, working in the family clothing store on weekends. He returned to Montreal to study science at McGill University on a scholarship, living with his maternal grandparents, Nathan and Eva Takefman. After earning an undergraduate degree at McGill, he studied medicine at Harvard, also on a scholarship.
"I've been waiting for him to win the Nobel Prize for some years," said Phil Gold, professor of medicine at McGill University and an internationally acclaimed researcher who has known Dr. Steinman for years.