Peter C. Doherty

For other people named Peter Doherty, see Peter Doherty (disambiguation).
Peter Doherty
Born 15 October 1940 (1940-10-15) (age 76)
Brisbane, Queensland
Nationality Australian
Fields Medicine
Institutions John Curtin School of Medical Research
Alma mater
Known for major histocompatibility complex
Notable awards

Peter Charles Doherty, AC, FRS, FMedSci (born 15 October 1940) is an Australian veterinary surgeon and researcher in the field of medicine. He received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1995, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with Rolf M. Zinkernagel in 1996 and was named Australian of the Year in 1997.[2] In the Australia Day Honours of 1997, he was named a Companion of the Order of Australia for his work with Zinkernagel.[3] He is also a National Trust Australian Living Treasure.[4]

Education and early life

Doherty was born in Brisbane, Queensland, where he attended Indooroopilly State High School (which now has a lecture theatre named after him). He received his bachelor's degree in veterinary science in 1962 and his master's degree in veterinary science in 1966 from the University of Queensland. After obtaining his PhD in 1970 from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, he returned to Australia to perform his Nobel Prize-winning research at the John Curtin School of Medical Research within the Australian National University in Canberra.


Doherty's research focuses on the immune system and his Nobel work described how the body's immune cells protect against viruses. He and Rolf Zinkernagel, the co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, discovered how T cells recognise their target antigens in combination with major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins.

Viruses infect host cells and reproduce inside them. Killer T-cells destroy those infected cells so that the viruses cannot reproduce. Zinkernagel and Doherty discovered that, in order for killer T cells to recognise infected cells, they had to recognise two molecules on the surface of the cell – not only the virus antigen, but also a molecule of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). This recognition was done by a T-cell receptor on the surface of the T cell. The MHC was previously identified as being responsible for the rejection of incompatible tissues during transplantation. Zinkernagel and Doherty discovered that the MHC was responsible for the body fighting meningitis viruses too.[5]

His semi-autobiographical book, The Beginner's Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize, was published by The Miegunyah Press, an imprint of Melbourne University Publishing Ltd, Melbourne in 2005. A Light History of Hot Air was published in 2007 by Melbourne University Press. In 2012 he published the book Sentinel Chickens.[6] His fourth book The Knowledge Wars was published in 2015.[7]

Personal life

Doherty has a younger brother named Ian and had two parents named Linda and Eric.

Doherty currently spends three months of the year conducting research at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he is a faculty member at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center through the College of Medicine.[8] For the other 9 months of the year, he works in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne, Victoria.

Doherty was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1987.[1][9][10] He is the patron of the eponymous Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Health. It houses a group of infection and immunology experts who are charged with leading the battle against infectious diseases in humans. This became operational in 2014.[11] He became an Honorary Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2015.[12]

Both John Monash Science School and Moreton Bay Boys College have a house named after him.


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