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He was open and honest about his cancer and “talked about it with a lot of people,” Nussenzweig said.

“He was incredibly heroic in how he handled his disease,” Finn said. “It was something important to fight. He continued his science, his publications, his experiments. He appeared at all the meetings. He received multiple prizes. He traveled.

“He wasn’t delusional in any way, but he was not going to let the disease change his life. Science was his life, and he stayed with it until the end.”

Hoffmann, 70, headed a research laboratory in Strasbourg, France, between 1974 and 2009 and served as president of the French National Academy of Sciences in 2007-08.

Beutler, 53, holds dual appointments at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and as professor of genetics and immunology at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. He will become a full-time faculty member at UT Southwestern on Dec. 1.

Beutler and Hoffmann were cited for their discoveries in the 1990s of receptor proteins that can recognize bacteria and other microorganisms as they enter the body, and activate the first line of defense in the immune system, known as innate immunity.

The work of the three men has enabled the development of improved vaccines against infectious diseases, and in the long term could yield better treatments of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and chronic inflammatory diseases, Nobel committee members said.

The work could also help efforts to make the immune system fight cancer, the committee said. A new treatment, Provenge, uses this concept to attack advanced prostate cancer.

“I am very touched,” Hoffmann said. “I’m thinking of all the people who worked with me, who gave everything. I wasn’t sure this domain merited a Nobel.”

Beutler said he woke up in the middle of the night, glanced at his cellphone and realized he had a new email message.

“And, I squinted at it and I saw that the title line was ‘Nobel Prize,’ so I thought I should give close attention to that,” Beutler said in an interview posted on the Nobel website.

When he opened it, he saw that it was from Nobel committee member Goran Hansson, “and it said that I had won the Nobel Prize, and so I was thrilled.”

The medicine award kicked off a week of prize announcements, with the physics prize on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday, literature on Thursday and the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. The winners of the economics award will be announced Oct. 10.

The coveted prizes were established by wealthy Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel _ the inventor of dynamite _ except for the economics award, which was created by Sweden’s central bank in 1968 in Nobel’s memory. The prizes are always handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.


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