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Biography of Ralph Steinman

Dr. Ralph Steinman Ralph M. Steinman, Henry G. Kunkel Professor at The Rockefeller University and a senior physician at The Rockefeller University Hospital, is a cell biologist whose research focuses on the immune system, including the human immune system in the setting of several diseases.

The body's immune defense system involves extremely complex interactions of specialized cells and molecules. Steinman's early research, conducted in collaboration with the late Zanvil A. Cohn at Rockefeller, began as an attempt to understand the primary white cells of the immune system — the large "eating" macrophages and the exquisitely specific lymphocytes, which operate in a variety of ways to spot, apprehend and destroy infectious microorganisms and tumor cells.

In the course of their studies, Steinman and Cohn discovered a previously unknown class of immune cells, which they called dendritic cells. Steinman's subsequent research points to dendritic cells as important and unique accessories in the onset of several immune responses, including clinically important situations such as graft rejection, resistance to tumors, autoimmune diseases, and infections including AIDS. In other words, when the immune system is presented with antigens in association with dendritic cells, a vigorous immune response ensues. ("Antigens" are the molecules on the surface of invader cells that are recognized by the body's lymphocytes, which are the cellular mediators of immunity.) Additionally, dendritic cells can be exploited during the development of many immunebased diseases.

Steinman heads the Laboratory of Cellular Physiology and Immunology at The Rockefeller University. His current research address the fundamental mechanisms of immunity and the interface of several disease states with the immune system, including studies aimed at developing vaccines and immune-based therapies for tumors, infections and autoimmune diseases. Steinman's research points to dendritic cells as critical sentinels of the immune system controlling many of their early responses from immune silencing (tolerance) to resistance (immunity).

Steinman was born in Montreal, Canada on January 14, 1943. He received a B.S. degree, with honors, from McGill University in 1963, and an M.D., magna cum laude, from Harvard Medical School in 1968. After completing an internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, he joined The Rockefeller University in 1970 as a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Cellular Physiology and Immunology headed by Cohn and the late James G. Hirsch. He was appointed an assistant professor in 1972, associate professor in 1976, and professor in 1988. He was named Henry G. Kunkel Professor in 1995, and Director of the Christopher H. Browne Center for Immunology and Immune Diseases in 1998.

Steinman is editor of the Journal of Experimental Medicine and advisory editor of Human Immunology, the Journal of Clinical Immunology, the Journal of Immunological Methods, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Steinman is a trustee of the Trudeau Institute, in Saranac Lake, NY, and serves as a scientific advisor to several organizations including the Charles A. Dana Foundation; a European consortium on the development of HIV vaccines; the Campbell Family Institute of Breast Cancer Research in Toronto, Canada; the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center for Immunology Research in Houston, TX; the RIKEN Center for Allergy and Immunology Research in Yokohama, Japan; and the CHAVI Center for HIV AIDS Vaccine Immunology, Durham, NC. Steinman is a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation, the American Society of Cell Biology, the American Association of Immunologists, the Harvey, the Kunkel and Practitioner's Societies and the Society for Leukocyte Biology.

Steinman is a recipient of the Freidrich-Sasse, Emil von Behring, and Robert Koch Prizes, the Rudolf Virchow and Coley Medals, the New York City Mayor's Award, the Gairdner Foundation International Award, the Debrecen Award in Molecular Medicine, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the Albany Medical Center Prize. He has been awarded honorary degrees from the University of Innsbruck, Free University of Brussels, Erlangen University, and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He is a corresponding fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and its Institute of Medicine.

Steinman, a resident of Westport, Connecticut, is married to the former Claudia Hoeffel. They have three children: Adam, Alexis and Lesley.

October 1, 2009