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Two AAAS Members Awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Two AAAS members, Ralph Steinman and Jules Hoffmann, were awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Unfortunately Steinman passed away from pancreatic cancer on September 30, according to Rockefeller University where the scientist worked. He was 68.

The Nobel Prize will be given to Steinman posthumously -- which is a rarity.

The news of Steinman's death reached the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet on October 3, 2011. Earlier the same day, the assembly announced the prize without knowing of Steinman's death.

The rules state that"work produced by a person since deceased shall not be given."However, the statutes specify that if a person has been awarded a prize and hasdied before receiving it, the prize may be presented.

Calling the events "unique" the assembly concluded that "the decision to award the Nobel Prize to Ralph Steinman was made in good faith, based on the assumption that the Nobel Laureate was alive," and therefore their decision to award him the prize "remains unchanged."

The Canadian-born Steinman was awarded half of this year's prize for his discovery of dendritic cells in the 1970's and hiscontinued work on adaptive immunity. 

"He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago, and his life was extended using dendritic-cell immunotherapy of his own design," Rockefeller reports.

Hoffmann, a French biologist, shared the other half ofthe prize with American Bruce Beutler, for their work on how immune systems firstrespond to attacks.

The work of these three scientists contributed to recentdevelopments in vaccines, cancer, and the treatment of inflammatory diseases."This year's Nobel Laureates have revolutionized our understanding of theimmune system by discovering key principles for its activation," said theaward panel at Sweden's Karolinska Institute in a statement in Stockholm. Thethree will receive their prize at the award ceremony in December.