Ralph Steinman, a 68-year-old Canadian scientist, was just awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discoveries regarding our immune system. Huge honor! Bigger celebration! Not exactly. Steinman passed away due to pancreatic cancer three days ago. The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute had no idea and now might take his award away.
Steinman was awarded the prize for his 1973 discovery where he found a new cell type, the dendritic cell. Dendritic cells activate T-cells and had a important role in regulating adaptive immunity, or "when antibodies and killer cells fight infections". The cells developed a sort of memory that helps the immune system better prepare itself for the next attack. Pretty interesting stuff!
The Nobel Foundation thought so too, that's why they gave him the award today. But here's where the story takes an ugly turn. Since Steinman's been dead for three days already, the Nobel prize originally awarded to him might be taken away from him. As in rescinded, nullified, gone. Why?
Because Nobel statutes don't allow for posthumous awards.
They do make room for people who pass away after the official announcement but before the December 10th award ceremony, but as Steinman died before the announcement entirely, he might lose out on the award because he was technically ineligible. The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet, the people who decide who wins the Nobel Prize in medicine, will have to reconvene to decide on what to do but hopefully, they make an exception as it's more their fault for not knowing Steinman had passed than Steinman's fault for dying. [Seattle Times, Image Credit: UCI]