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St. Jude marks the 20th anniversary of Doherty’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

A foundation for cancer immunotherapy. The biological basis of organ rejection following transplantation. Fresh insight into vaccine effectiveness.

Those are among the advances that flowed from the Nobel-Prize-winning research of Peter C. Doherty, PhD, of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Rolf M. Zinkernagel, MD, PhD, of the University of Zurich. In 1996, the scientists shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries into how the immune system recognizes and responds to virus-infected cells.

Doherty and Zinkernagel were honored for research done in the early 1970s when they were young investigators sharing laboratory space and puzzling over viral immunity.

Ultimately their work explained how white blood cells called T lymphocytes recognize and destroy virus-infected cells. Doherty and Zinkernagel proposed that T-cells recognize and respond when a piece of virus, or another “foreign” agent, combines and is carried to the cell surface by a protein called the major histocompatibility complex. 

“It was a revolutionary concept, something people hadn’t expected.”
–Peter C. Doherty, PhD, 1996

Doherty and researchers from across the U.S. gathered at St. Jude December 9, 2016, to mark the 20th anniversary of the prize-winning research and discuss achievements and challenges ahead in the field of immunology.


Peter C. Doherty, Ph.D., and Paul Thomas, Ph.D., associate member of St. Jude Immunology, discuss the day the 1996 Nobel Prize was announced and how science has progressed.