From the Archives: Ralph Steinman

When I woke up yesterday morning and turned on my radio, I was excited to find out that noted immunologist and long-time Dana consultant Ralph Steinman had won the Nobel Prize for medicine. What my colleagues and I did not discover until a few hours later was that Dr. Steinman had died three days earlier, four-and-a-half years after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Steinman

In honor of Dr. Steinman, the latest From the Archives feature is a profile of him written by Web Editor Nicky Penttila after he was awarded the prestigious Lasker Prize in 2007. Here is an excerpt about his early research:

In the 1970s, when Steinman started his research career, researchers knew about the "musician" cells and they knew about infections. But in their laboratories, they could not seem to energize the immune cells to react to the infections. A link was missing, some cell in the immune-system soup that flipped the immune system cells on, and on in the right direction. They called the cells they were looking for "accessory cells."

Steinman was working in the lab of the late Zanvil Cohn at Rockefeller University, an expert in the physiology of macrophages, which were considered to be a leading candidate for the missing accessory cells.  "We looked at the populations [of cells] that were the source of the accessory cells," Steinman says. Using spleen tissue from mice, "we found unusual cells that had never been seen before; they were tree-like in shape. Hence the name we gave them, dendritic, from the Greek word for tree."

You can also read Dr. Steinman’s columns from the 2007-2010 issues of Immunology in the News—no one could write about immunology more clearly than he could.

Dr. Steinman was a brilliant scientist, extraordinary communicator, and wonderful person. We will miss him.

–Johanna Goldberg

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