Never Do Unto Others What You Wouldn't Do to Yourself

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


June 23, 2015

A Truly Noble Experiment

Figure 8. Ralph Steinman. Image courtesy of Rockefeller University

Ralph Steinman (1943-2011) devoted much of his research career to the study of dendritic cells, which function as a link between the innate and the adaptive immune systems. In 1973, Steinman isolated an unusual cell from the mouse spleen that was subsequently found in blood and in organs that have contact with the environment, such as the skin and the intestines. Steinman coined the term "dendritic cells" because of the distinctive tree-like appearance of these cells on microscopy. Four decades of work in his lab has increased our understanding of the role of dendritic cells and forms the basis of immunotherapy for many diseases, including cancer.

In 2007 Steinman, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, received experimental vaccines based on his previous research. Rather than surviving for less than a year—the usual outcome—he lived for nearly 5 years before finally dying a few days before receiving the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work.[11,12] Steinman remains the only scientist to have received the Nobel Prize posthumously.

Suggested Reading

Altman LK. Who Goes First? The Story of Self-Experimentation in Medicine. New York: Random House; 1987.

Boring M, Dendy L, Mordan CB. Guinea Pig Scientists: Bold Self-Experimenters in Science and Medicine. London: Macmillan; 2005.

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