Nobel winner fought his cancer with own research until death

Dr. Ralph Steinman became the subject of his own pioneering research in the field of immunology after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer four and half years ago. After winning a Nobel prize this week, just three days after this death, Steinman appears to have coupled an unrelenting desire to stay alive with his huge contributions to immunology, Reuters reported.

Steinman, who was an immunology expert at New York's renowned Rockefeller University, took as many as 8 unproven and conventional therapies during his battle with pancreatic cancer, Reuters reported. True to his research in immunology, he searched for treatments that impact immune activities to attack tumor cells, including BioSante Pharmaceuticals' experimental vaccine GVAX. His colleagues aided his cause, helping him access pioneering therapies and get treated with the approval of the FDA.

"Many people all over the world helped to get a vaccine for him, but it was designed entirely by Ralph and the effort was coordinated by Ralph," Dr. Michel Nussenzweig, head of molecular immunology at Rockefeller, told Reuters. "Sometimes you hear of people in the back room of the lab injecting themselves. That was not this. An immense amount of my last four years was spent on the paperwork."

It was a bittersweet moment when Steinman's name was announced as a winner of the Nobel prize in medicine along with France's Jules Hoffmann and U.S. researcher Bruce Beutler this week. While Steinman didn't live to receive the prestigious award, he did live to see his work and discovery of dendritic cells in 1973 lead to the first FDA-approved therapeutic cancer vaccine, Dendreon's ($DNDN) Provenge. And, despite slow initial sales of Provenge, there are now many therapeutic vaccines at various stages of development in the biotech game.

Steinman even received an experimental dendritic cell therapy made with his own blood and blood precursor cells, Reuters reported. Argos Therapeutics, a Durham, NC-based biotech, collaborated with Steinman and his colleagues on the first dendritic cell therapy that he received.

In fact, Steinman might have even prolonged his own life with treatments that spawned from his research of the immune system. That alone is a huge achievement.

- read the Reuters story