Ralph Steinman

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 23 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7497
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. ns{at}

Showed that dendritic cells could activate T cells

Four and a half years ago, Ralph Steinman was 64 years old, an age at which most medical researchers are contemplating slowing down. But any notion that he might have had of easing gracefully into a long and enjoyable old age were shattered by bad news: he had pancreatic cancer, a disease that kills 95% of patients within a year.

Steinman, though, would not be an easy target for the cancer. Armed with a burning desire to live and decades of experience conducting groundbreaking research unlocking secrets of the human immune response, Steinman was determined to fight—and to win. “He was very disappointed by the news,” said Sarah J Schlesinger, long time friend and colleague. “But it almost immediately galvanised him into ‘scientific challenge mode,’ and he approached this as his greatest experiment.”

Personalised cells

Steinman opted to receive all available conventional treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy, said Dr Schlesinger, associate professor of clinical investigation in the laboratory of cellular physiology and immunology at the Rockefeller University in New York City. But he also, in consultation with top researchers around the world, devised his own experimental immunotherapies using …

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