Peter Doherty’s Nobel Prize-winning research revealed how our immune system targets virally infected cells. Together with Rolf Zinkernagel, Peter showed how infected cells are cleared from the body by white blood cells known as ‘killer’ T cells. To achieve this, killer T cells must recognise two important molecules displayed on an infected cell’s surface — a fragment of the virus and a special protein tag that marks the cell as part of the body.
By mixing killer T cells with virus-infected cells obtained from genetically similar or diverse mice, Peter and Rolf showed that killer T cells require the presence of a major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I tag — which they recognise as ‘self’ — in order to trigger programmed cell death.
Peter received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his important findings, and the following year was voted Australian of the Year. These experiences introduced him to science communication, which he continues as the author of a number of popular science books, including The Beginner’s Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize (2005).
Leeuwenhoek Medal and Lecture
On 'Killer T cells and virus infections'.
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Jointly with Rolf M. Zinkernagel for their discoveries concerning the specificity of the cell mediated immune defence.