Long before the current crop of therapeutic vaccines entered the clinic, researchers blazed a trail for understanding the role that natural immunity plays in fighting off diseases. Three of those groundbreaking scientists, Scripps' Bruce Beutler, the French researcher Jules Hoffman and Rockefeller University's Ralph Steinman, who died just a few days ago, were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine today.
According to a release from Rockefeller University, Steinman died of pancreatic cancer on September 30, four years after he was diagnosed with the disease. The university says that his life was extended by a dendritic vaccine of his own design.
Beutler and Hoffman were credited with pioneering research on the receptor proteins that offer the first line of defense against invaders while Steinman zeroed in on dendritic cells that mount a second-line defense against the invasive elements that get through. Those insights helped form the intellectual foundation that underpins Provenge, the world's first approved therapeutic cancer vaccine. The Nobel committee also recognized the huge influence their work has had on developers who are advancing experimental programs which promise to create a wave of next-gen vaccines and therapeutics.
"The first line of defense, innate immunity, can destroy invading microorganisms and trigger inflammation," noted the Nobel panel. "If microorganisms break through this defense line, adaptive immunity is called into action. It produces antibodies and killer cells that destroy infected cells. These two defense lines provide good protection against infections, but they also pose a risk...(as) inflammatory disease may follow."