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3 Researchers Win Nobel Prize for Discoveries in Immunology

[Updated (9:15 a.m.) with word of Dr. Steinman's death.]

Three scientists—one of whom died on Friday—were jointly awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine today for discoveries about how the immune system identifies and fights off threats to the body, leading the way toward the creation of new vaccines and treatments for cancer. Their achievements “revolutionized our understanding of the immune system,” according to a citation released by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.

Ralph M. Steinman, a professor of immunology at New York’s Rockefeller University who died on Friday at age 68, was honored with one half of the prize. Bruce A. Beutler, a professor of genetics and immunology at the Scripps Research Institute, in La Jolla, Calif., and Jules A. Hoffmann, a researcher at France’s University of Strasbourg, will receive the other half. Nobel Prizes are not customarily awarded posthumously, but even though Dr. Steinman had been suffering from pancreatic cancer, the Karolinska Institute may have been unaware that he had just passed away.

The prize, worth about $1.5-million this year, will be presented at a ceremony in December. Dr. Beutler and Dr. Hoffman previously shared the $1-million Shaw Prize, and Dr. Steinman, a Lasker Award winner, and Dr. Beutler previously shared the $500,000 Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research.

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