Update, 1:38 p.m.: The Nobel Foundation says Steinman will receive the medicine prize, despite having died Sept. 30, the AP reports.

On Saturday, after extending his life for years using an immunotherapy of his own design, Canadian-born researcher Ralph Steinman died of pancreatic cancer.

Three days later, Steinman was awarded the Nobel prize for medicine.


Dr. Ralph Steinman of Rockefeller University in April 2009. (Mike Groll/AP)

But Steinman may not get to keep the prize. Nobel Prizes are not usually given out posthumously, and Nobel committee member Goran Hansson said the Nobel committee had not known Steinman was dead when he was chosen. The committe is now looking through its regulations to decide whether to rescind it.

In the past, laureates who died in the months between their nomination and the decision of the prize committee were still eligible to receive the prize after death. The 1931 Literature prize and the 1961 Peace Prize were awarded to Erik Axel Karlfeldt and Dag Hammarskjöld, respectively, just after they had died.

Since 1974, however, winners of the prize must be alive at the time of the announcement.

The prize for William Vickrey, who died after the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics was announced but before it could be presented, was accepted by a colleague in 1996 on his behalf.

If Steinman's prize is rescinded, the decision may garner a similar reaction to the case of Rosalind Franklin.

A British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer, Franklin made essential contributions to our understanding of the structures of DNA. Four years after her death, the Nobel Prize was given to three scientists for work they had done on nucleic acids, using essential data from Rosalind to make their model of DNA. Rosalind’s name was not on the prize, and many say she was cheated out of an award she deserved.

In Steinman’s case, the work of all three scientists was pivotal for the prize. While Beutler and Hoffmann discovered that receptor proteins act as a first line of defense, Steinman's work explained how dendritic cells in the next phase can kill off infections that break through.

Some would argue that the new methods for treating and preventing diseases for which the trio won the award would not have been developed without Steinman’s discoveries.

Do you think Steinman should be able to keep his award?