Bruce Beutler, left, and Jules Hoffmann, right, receive the Balzan...

Bruce Beutler, left, and Jules Hoffmann, right, receive the Balzan Prize in Bern, Switzerland. The Nobel committee says Beutler, Hoffmann have shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in medicine with Canadian-born Ralph Steinman. (Oct. 3, 2011) Credit: AP

Studying biology runs in Bruce Beutler's genes. The Chicago native's late father, renowned hematologist Ernest Beutler, cultivated a love of science in his son that reached a pinnacle Monday when the younger Beutler was named one of three winners of the Nobel Prize in medicine.

"I thought it was possible, but nobody can count on winning the Nobel Prize, so I'm just ecstatic," said Beutler, professor and chairman of the Department of Genetics at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

Beutler will share the award with French scientist Jules Hoffmann and Canadian-born Ralph Steinman for their research on the immune system.

"Their work has opened up new avenues for the development of prevention and therapy against infections, cancer and inflammatory disease," the committee citation said.

Born in Chicago in 1957, Beutler grew up in California and said he has always been enamored with animals and the inner workings of living things. Steven Beutler, an infectious disease specialist, describes his brother as smart and hard-working.

"He started at a very young age," Steven Beutler said. "I think he had the influence of my father, a great scientist ... a great role model for teaching him to ask the right questions."

When he was about 19, Bruce Beutler returned to the Midwest to study medicine at the University of Chicago. Beutler graduated in 1981 and is the 86th person associated with the university to win a Nobel Prize, according to school officials.

Kenneth Resnick, a friend and former medical school classmate, remembers Beutler making a mistake during a lab experiment. Instead of viewing it as time wasted, he took the project in a new direction. For Beutler, Resnick said, lab work was "an opportunity to build something and create something new."

"Even as a kid, he saw himself trying to push back major frontiers in biology," Resnick said. "He wanted to answer fundamental questions, not just grind out another study."


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