Scientist Died Friday, Won Nobel Prize Today

The Nobel committee had no idea he'd died—and rules prohibit giving the award posthumously

This is one of those stories you just couldn’t make up if you tried. CNN is reporting that Ralph Steinman, a biologist at Rockefeller University and one of the recipients of the 2011 Nobel Prize for medicine, died on Friday. The Nobel committee announced this morning that Steinman had won the award; they had no idea he’d died just days ago.

It gets crazier. Steinman apparently won the prestigious award for his discovery of an immune system cell that can be used for treating infections and other communicable diseases. Four years ago, Steinman was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Since then, he’s been using his own technique—the one for which he won the Nobel prize—to treat his own disease. Is this all feeling very meta to anyone else?

Here’s another interesting twist: “Nobel rules prohibit awarding a prize posthumously unless the winner dies after the award is announced,” reports CNN. The rule has been in place since 1974.

The prize carries with it a cash award of about $1.5 million; it was set to be split three ways between Steinman and the two other men with whom he shared the prize. No word yet on whether the committee will take him out of the running. Another news outlet reports that committee members are busy reviewing their regulations before they make a decision.

What do you think? Should Steinman get the award and prize money, rules be damned? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.