A Canadian-born scientist was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for his discoveries about the immune system but hours later his university said that he had been dead for three days.

The Nobel committee had been unaware of Ralph Steinman’s death and it was unclear whether the prize would be rescinded because Nobel statutes don’t allow posthumous awards.

Steinman, 68, who shared the prize with American Bruce Beutler and French scientist Jules Hoffmann, died on September 30 of pancreatic cancer, according to Rockefeller University, which said he had been treated with immunotherapy based on his discovery of dendritic cells two decades earlier.

The cells help regulate adaptive immunity, an immune system response that purges invading microorganisms from the body.

Nobel committee member Goran Hansson said the Nobel committee didn’t know Steinman was dead when it chose him as a winner and was looking through its regulations.

“It is incredibly sad news,” Mr. Hansson said. “We can only regret that he didn’t have the chance to receive the news he had won the Nobel Prize. Our thoughts are now with his family.”

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