The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

…and the prize goes to Bruce A. Beutler, Jules A. Hoffmann, and Ralph M. Steinman for their work on the innate immune system, the components of resistance that are evolutionarily older than the adaptive immune system (antibodies, T cells, all that stuff). The innate immune system includes all the cytokine and chemokine activators of other components of the immune system, NK (natural killer) cells, various lipid inflammation mediators, the histamine response, and the complement cascade — a welter of complex interacting elements that combine to make our bodies hostile places for any pathogen. This is the first, fast-acting part of the immune response, so it’s rather important; it also contributes to auto-immune diseases.

(Also on Sb)


  1. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Unfortunately for Dr. Ralph Steinman, he passed away days before being awarded the Prize.

  2. joed says

    Sadly, Ralph Steinman has died.
    Nobel prize for medicine winner, Canadian-born Ralph Steinman, is seen in an undated handout photo. The scientist won the Nobel prize for medicine on October 3, 2011 for work on fighting cancer, but died of the disease himself on September 30, 2011 before he could be told of his award, and after using his own discoveries to extend his life. Steinman, who was 68, won the 2011 Nobel Prize.

  3. Rose Boy says

    I never got a chance to meet Dr. Steinman or hear him talk. I invited him to give a talk at my university while I was a grad student, but he could not attend. It will be interesting to see how the Nobel committee chooses to honor him since he died before they announced.

  4. InfraredEyes says

    At moments like this, I really wish I believed in an afterlife, so that somebody could tell him.

  5. Thomathy, now gayer and atheister says

    Ralph Steinman will still be awarded the prize, despite his unfortunate death. It is sad, however, that he died before receiving the award because he had been living for an astounding four years with pancreatic cancer due to therapies resulting from his own research. I can imagine that were he still alive, he would be incredibly thankful for the recognition of his and his peers works considering its apparent practical success.

  6. Thomathy, now gayer and atheister says

    (At times like this I wish there were an edit button so that I could fix things like the grammatical gobbledygook above. What the hell happened to my brain there?!)

  7. Gregory says

    I am on the Community Advisory Board for the HIV Vaccine Trials Unit in Seattle. I don’t believe any of these honorees have worked with HIV directly, I do know that their work has helped greatly to expand our understanding of the human immune system and thus helped in the efforts to find a vaccine.

    A very well deserved honor.

  8. says

    Thomathy, your meaning was clear, if not concise.
    Gregory, all diseases that involve an immune response will benefit, which I think is all diseases.

    Lupus, MS and HIV especially.

    A well deserved honor indeed. And I admire your work.
    The Nobel Committee made the right decision, IMHO, they went with the best info they had at the time.

    Congratulation to Dr. Steinman, and my condolences to his family.

  9. Ryan says

    Gregory: Without the work these men did there would be no such trial, it forms the foundation.

    PZ: A nitpick correction, but Steinman’s work was with dendritic/Langerhans cells. These cells are the first cells activated in the adaptive response, and are not considered part of the innate immune system.

  10. JustaTech says

    My boss had worked with Dr. Steinman at his(my boss’) last company where they were working with dendritic cells in a cancer treatment. Their treatment was not for pancreatic cancer, but when Dr. Steinman asked to receive the treatment the company pulled all kinds of strings to get him in the trial. We can’t know if it made a difference, but hopefully we will find a way to apply his discovery to the treatment of cancer as well as HIV and auto-immune diseases.