- Associated Press - Monday, October 3, 2011

STOCKHOLM (AP) - Rockefeller University in New York says Ralph Steinman, co-winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine, has died.

It says Steinman was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago and died on Sept. 30, three days before the announcement.

Nobel Prizes are typically not given out posthumously. Nobel committee member Goran Hansson said the Nobel committee didn’t know Steinman was dead when it chose him as a winner and was looking through its regulations.

Steinman shared the 10 million-kronor ($1.5 million) award with American Bruce Beutler and French scientist Jules Hoffmann.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

STOCKHOLM (AP) _ Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discoveries about the immune system that opened new avenues for the treatment and prevention of infectious illnesses and cancer.

American Bruce Beutler and French scientist Jules Hoffmann shared the 10 million-kronor ($1.5 million) award with Canadian-born Ralph Steinman, the Nobel committee at Stockholm’s Karolinska institute said.

Their discoveries have enabled the development of improved vaccines against infectious diseases. In the long term they could also yield better treatments of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and chronic inflammatory diseases, award committee secretary Goran Hansson told The Associated Press.

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.

Steinman was honored for the discovery two decades earlier of dendritic cells, which help regulate adaptive immunity, the next stage of the immune system’s response, when the invading microorganisms are purged from the body.

The discoveries have helped scientists understand why the immune system sometimes attacks its own tissues, paving the way for new ways to fight inflammatory diseases.

“They have made possible the development of new methods for preventing and treating disease, for instance with improved vaccines against infections and in attempts to stimulate the immune system to attack tumors,” the committee said.

No vaccines are on the market yet, but Hansson told AP that vaccines against hepatitis are in the pipeline. “Large clinical trials are being done today,” he said.

Hansson said he had not been able to reach any of the winners before the announcement.

Hoffmann for example is traveling in China and is difficult to reach,” he said.

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