Best of 2011 // 84: The First Posthumous 


The Nobel Committee announced in the morning of Monday 3 October that Ralph Steinman, an immunologist, had won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his immune cell research and a finding resulting in the first therapeutic cancer vaccine. The members were then stunned to learn that Steinman died after a four-year fight on pancreatic cancer on the previous Friday. This created a bit of a problem: Nobel prizes cannot be awarded posthumously. However, in view of his very recent death, the committee decided to make an exception for Steinman and later on Monday announced that he would remain the winner of the award and a Nobel Laureate.

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Erik Axel Karlfeldt won the Nobel Prize in the Literary Science of 1931, six months after his death, and Dag Karlfeldt died a month before his appointment as winner of the 1961 Peace Award. That makes Steinman the first posthumous winner since a rule was enacted in 1974, barring such awarding. A happy side effect of the Steinman’s award is amount of attention his work is receiving. Steinman developed experimental treatments for cancer with the help of numerous colleagues, which he tested on himself. It was to have been the best prize to be awarded, that he lived four years after his diagnosis rather than the usual few months.

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