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Before the statutes were changed in 1974 two Nobel Prizes were given posthumously. In 1961, U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize less than a month after he died in a plane crash during a peace mission to Congo. Swedish poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt won the Nobel in literature in 1931, although he had died in March of that year.

“The Nobel Foundation thus believes that what has occurred is more reminiscent of the example in the statutes concerning a person who has been named as a Nobel Laureate and has died before the actual Nobel Prize Award Ceremony,” the foundation said following its meeting.

Nobel officials said the situation was unprecedented, and that Steinman’s survivors would receive his share of the prize money. It wasn’t immediately clear who would represent him at the ceremony in Stockholm.

Nobel Foundation chairman Lars Heikensten, who started his job in June, said he was stunned when he found out that Steinman was dead.

“My first thought was: ‘Wow, this is a remarkable thing to happen now that I’m involved in this for the first time. How do we handle this now?’” he told AP.

Hansson said the medicine committee didn’t know Steinman was dead when it chose him.

“It is incredibly sad news,” he said. “We can only regret that he didn’t have the chance to receive the news he had won the Nobel Prize. Our thoughts are now with his family.”

Beutler, 53, holds dual appointments at 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.

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

Steinman had been head of Rockefeller University’s Center for Immunology and Immune Diseases.

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

Hoffmann’s discovery came in 1996 during research on how fruit flies fight infections. Two years later, Beutler’s research on mice showed that fruit flies and mammals activate innate immunity in similar ways when attacked by germs.

Steinman’s discovery dates back to 1973, when he found a new cell type, the dendritic cell, which has a unique capacity to activate T-cells. Those cells have a key role in adaptive immunity, when antibodies and killer cells fight infections. They also develop a memory that helps the immune system mobilize its defenses next time it comes under a similar attack.

The medicine award kicked off a week of Nobel Prize announcements, and will be followed by 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 on 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, on the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.

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