Canada-born Ralph M. Steinman, 68, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his groundbreaking work on the immune system, died of pancreatic cancer just days before he would have found out that he had been awarded the prize.

Ralph Steinman, a professor at New York's Rockefeller University, was acknowledged by the Swedish Nobel Committee for his groundbreaking research into the human immune system.

The Canadian-born scientist uncovered a type of cell - a dendritic cell - born in the bone marrow but found all over the body that helps fight cancer.

After a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer, Steinman died Friday before the announcement was made and could not receive this news and feel that happiness of his career's work being rewarded by the most respected prize on the planet.

Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously, but there is also a rule that a laureate can keep the prize if he dies between the announcement and the award ceremony held some weeks later.

The Nobel Prize Foundation said Monday that despite the scientists’ death, the decision would stand and the late Dr Steinman would be awarded the Noble Prize for medicine.

The Nobel Prize shall not deliberately be awarded posthumously. However, the decision to award the Nobel Prize to Ralph Steinman was made in good faith, based on the assumption that the Nobel laureate was alive, the committee said.

It's really impossible to describe how our family is feeling right now. We're devastated to have lost Ralph, Steinman's son Adam told reporters in New York, Reuters reported.

 We're so incredibly proud of dad for receiving this wonderful honor ... We know he will live on through his scientific contributions.

We are delighted the Nobel Foundation has recognized Ralph Steinman for his seminal discoveries concerning the body's immune responses. But the news is bitter; he passed a few days ago after a long battle with cancer. Our thoughts are with his family, Rockefeller University President Marc Tessir-Lavigne told the Mirror.

The prize has been divided, with one half going jointly to American Bruce A. Beutler and Frenchman Jules A. Hoffmann for their discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity and the other half to Steinman for his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity, according to an earlier announcement by the committee.

Beutler, currently at the Scripps Research Institute in California, and Jules Hoffmann, a Luxembourg-born scientist who has spent most of his career in France, discovered receptor proteins that can recognize such micro-organisms and activate innate immunity, the first step in the body's immune response.

Steinman was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007 and was determined to fight the disease that normally kills its victims within months. He based his therapy and treatment on his own research with Reuters reporting Monday that the Canadian-born scientist prolonged his life with a therapy based on the prize-winning research into the immune system.