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Both Steve Jobs and Ralph Steinman made the news for their deaths from pancreatic cancer in 2011. Steve Jobs was the wealthy businessman who ran Apple Computer. Ralph Steinman was a scientist who won the Nobel Prize for his work on the immune system.
Steinman's own research kept him alive longer than expected. Tragically, however, he died three days before the Nobel Prize Committee called to notify him of his award.
Katherine Harmon wrote a feature article on Steinman for Scientific American. He was diagnosed with pancreatic adenocarcinoma in 2007. This is the most common form of pancreatic cancer.
The Mayo Clinic website explains that adenocarcinoma forms in the ducts of the pancreas, and is also called an exocrine tumor. Cancer that forms in the hormone-producing cells is called endocrine cancer, and is much rarer.
Harmon explained that Steinman's 4.5-year survival after diagnosis was more exceptional than Jobs' 8-year survival, because Jobs had the endocrine type of pancreatic cancer. Endocrine cancers grow more slowly, and the course of Jobs' disease was closer to average than was Steinman's.
Steinman was treated with standard surgery, known as the Whipple procedure, and chemotherapy with gemcitabine. In addition, he received experimental therapies to boost his immune defense against the cancer.
Harmon provided the following timeline:
1. Late 2007: the GVAX dendritic cell vaccine for pancreatic cancer, which uses technology similar to the Provenge vaccine for prostate cancer.
2. Winter 2007 through Spring 2008: the Argos vaccine, made from cells taken from Steinman's tumor plus his own blood cells. The Argos vaccine is in development for kidney cancer, but his colleagues obtained FDA approval to enroll Steinman in a single-patient protocol.
3. 2008 through 2010: a dendritic cell vaccine under development for melanoma, using peptides from Steinman's tumor.
4. Mid-2010: Oncovir's experimental immune stimulant Hiltonol.
5. Winter and Summer 2010: Ipilimumab, a monoclonal antibody approved for treating melanoma.
Steinman's lab data showed that something was working.