Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Death of a Nobel Laureate

The alleged controversy about what the Nobel Foundation would do has been put to rest. But this is truly moving:

... Dr. Ralph Steinman ... actually used his discoveries in the laboratory to try to save his own life. His career-long quest had been to develop a vaccine against cancer for humans, having shown 20 years ago that such a treatment could be effective in mice.

Four and a half years ago, after he was found to be jaundiced from a spreading pancreatic cancer, he began tailoring an experimental vaccine against his own tumor. The idea was to use the principles learned in the experiments on mice and in the laboratory to produce immune cells derived from his dendritic cells, a class of cells that he discovered in 1973.

After a piece of Dr. Steinman’s cancer was removed, a colleague, Dr. Michel Nussenzweig, grew it in the laboratory to produce enough material to send to at least 20 researchers at Rockefeller University and at least five other laboratories around the world. Dr. Steinman organized the work among the researchers who developed the experimental vaccine.

Dr. Steinman received standard chemotherapy for his cancer as well as the experimental vaccine, which other doctors at Rockefeller University injected under his skin, Dr. Nussenzweig said Monday in a telephone interview. ...

“Ralph believed strongly that it would work,” Dr. Nussenzweig said. “Obviously, it did not work or he would be here now, but possibly it prolonged his life.” The research, he added, will continue.