Dr. Ralph Steinman’s work on immune system 
celebrated by Nobel Prize Committee

Published: 3 October 2011

McGill science graduate’s research transformed our understanding 
of the body’s ability to fight invading microorganisms

McGill University extends its condolences to the family and friends of the late Dr. Ralph M. Steinman (BSc'63) after the illustrious science graduate died of pancreatic cancer on Friday at the age of 68. The Nobel Prize Committee, unaware of his death, announced Monday morning that Steinman, of New York's Rockefeller University, had been awarded a share of the 2011 prize for Medicine or Physiology, along with U.S. scientist Bruce Beutler and Luxembourg-born Jules Hoffmann, who is based in France.

The award citation said these three scientists had long been researching the immune response by which man and other animals defend themselves against attack by bacteria and other microorganisms.

“On behalf of McGill University, I wish to extend our profound condolences to the family and friends on the passing of one of our eminent alumni, Dr. Ralph Steinman, whose share of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine was announced just days after his death,” said Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill.

“Dr. Steinman's, outstanding work in immunology and his discovery of the key role dendritic cells play in immune processes has led to a number of significant potential therapies for a variety of diseases, including cancer,” added Prof. Munroe-Blum.  “Dr. Steinman’s work has made a substantial contribution to medical science. McGill is always proud when one of our own goes on to great achievement and success. Our delight at his many accomplishments is tempered by sadness at this most untimely loss.”

The Nobel citation goes on to say, "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." Dr. Steinman coined the term “dendritic” in 1973, to describe the function of cells whose primary work is to process antigen material and present it on the surface to other cells of the immune system.

“The work of the three scientists has been pivotal to the development of improved types of vaccines against infectious diseases and novel approaches to fighting cancer. The research has helped lay the foundations for a new wave of so-called ‘therapeutic vaccines’ that stimulate the immune system to attack tumours.”

“We are all so touched that our father's many years of hard work are being recognized with a Nobel Prize," his daughter, Alexis Steinman, said in a statement. “He devoted his life to his work and his family, and he would be truly honoured.”

PHOTO: Rockefeller University

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