Last week, scientist Ralph Steinman became the first person in history be be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine posthumously; just three days prior to the award announcement, Steinman passed away following an extended bout with pancreatic cancer.

What many people don't realize, however, is the intimate tie between Steinman's Nobel Prize-winning work and the disease that claimed his life. In 1973, Steinman co-discovered a new class of immune cells, known as dendritic cells, that play an important role in regulating the body's immune system in response to disease. When Steinman was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, he turned to his work in dendritic cells for a therapeutic answer.

Now, Nature's Lauren Gravitz, who knew Steinman personally, has written an excellent feature on how Steinman's personal battle with cancer managed to move the entire field of immunology forward. Gravitz writes:

Researchers across the field were eager to help the man who had always been generous with his time and knowledge. "Ralph was a collaborator, a competitor, but before everything he was a friend," says Jacques Banchereau, who began working with Steinman in the early 1990s and is now head of inflammation and virology at Roche in Nutley, New Jersey.

"Everybody around the world who had something to share came forward, and he analysed and chose what looked most promising," says Sarah Schlesinger, a physician–researcher at Rockefeller who worked closely with Steinman and oversaw many of his experimental treatments. "We worked with dozens of colleagues, who helped in designing his therapy, evaluating the tumour and evaluating his immune response, and many worked with us to create single-patient protocols to treat him with experimental immunotherapy that went through the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration]."

You can read Gravitz's article in its entirety (no subscription required) over at Nature News.