The Nobel Prize in medicine has been awarded to three scientists whose discoveries about the human immune system "opened up new avenues for the development of prevention and therapy against infections, cancer, and inflammatory diseases," the Nobel committee announced earlier today.
The honorees are American Bruce Beutler, Luxembourg-born Jules Hoffman and Canadian-born Ralph Steinman.
According to the Nobel committee:
"This year's Nobel Laureates have revolutionized our understanding of the immune system by discovering key principles for its activation.
"Scientists have long been searching for the gatekeepers of the immune response by which man and other animals defend themselves against attack by bacteria and other microorganisms. Bruce Beutler and Jules Hoffmann discovered receptor proteins that can recognize such microorganisms and activate innate immunity, the first step in the body's immune response. Ralph Steinman discovered the dendritic cells of the immune system and their unique capacity to activate and regulate adaptive immunity, the later stage of the immune response during which microorganisms are cleared from the body.
"The discoveries of the three Nobel Laureates have revealed how the innate and adaptive phases of the immune response are activated and thereby provided novel insights into disease mechanisms. Their work has opened up new avenues for the development of prevention and therapy against infections, cancer, and inflammatory diseases."
Reuters says Beutler and Hoffmann will share one half of the prize of 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.46 million) and Steinman will be receiving the other half.
Here's the schedule for the other Nobel prize announcements:
Update at 8:58 a.m. ET: Steinman Died On Friday:
There's now word from Rockefeller University, where he was a professor, that Steinman died on Friday. The university adds that "he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four years ago, and his life was extended using a dendritic-cell based immunotherapy of his own design."
The Montreal Gazette adds that:
"Steinman died this past weekend of pancreatic cancer, The Gazette has learned from Steinman's family. The Nobel Prize is not normally given posthumously unless "a prizewinner dies before he has received the prize, then the prize may be presented," the Noble Prize website states."
Update at 8:55 a.m. ET: Our colleague Richard Knox has a post on the Shots blog — "Nobelists Showed How Immune Defenses Work And Go Awry."