Elinor Ostrom, the first and only woman to win the Nobel Economics Prize since it was first awarded 40 years ago, died Tuesday, said Indiana University. She was 78.

The university where Ostrom worked since 1965 and conducted groundbreaking research on the ways people organize themselves and manage resources said she died of pancreatic cancer at 6:40 a.m. (1140 GMT) at IU Health Bloomington Hospital.

The school has lost an "irreplaceable and magnificent treasure," Indiana University President Michael McRobbie said.

She is survived by her husband and colleague.

Ostrom shared the 2009 Nobel prize in economics with fellow American Oliver Williamson.

In her research, Ostrom conducted numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes and groundwater basins, proving them better managed than what other theorists had suggested about common property.

In effect, she showed that ordinary people are capable of creating rules that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources, countering conventional wisdom that only private ownership or top-down regulation could prevent their destruction.

The first woman economics laureate was born in Los Angeles in 1933, in a region where water was a precious commodity. She first learned about managing natural resources as a child working in the family's vegetable garden.

Her mother called it the "Victory Garden," she recalls, cultivated during World War II to help feed the troops.

"So I learned all about growing vegetables and preserving them by canning," she said in 2009, as well as how people, when confronted with a problem of resources, can cooperate and work for the common good.

She received a doctorate in political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and in 1965 became a researcher at Indiana University, where she joined her husband Vincent Ostrom.

[Elinor Ostrom, pictured in 2011, was the first and only woman to win the Nobel Economics Prize since it was first awarded 40 years ago. AFP Photo/Raveendran]