Peter C. Doherty Biography

Peter C Doherty is a renowned Australian scientist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology for his groundbreaking discovery on how the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells. With a Master’s degree in veterinary science from the University of Queensland and a PhD in Pathology from the University of Edinburgh, Doherty’s expertise lies in the field of immune system defense against viruses. Currently, he holds positions at the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and the University of Melbourne’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Doherty has made significant contributions to the scientific community through his research, publications, public lectures, and participation in scientific discussions.

Quick Facts

  • Australian Celebrities Born In October Age: 83 Years, 83 Year Old Males
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Penny Stephens, father: Eric Doherty, mother: Linda Doherty, children: James Doherty, Michael Doherty
  • Born Country: Australia
  • Immunologists
  • Australian Men
  • City: Brisbane, Australia
  • Awards: Nobel Prize for Physiology (1996)

Childhood & Early Life

Peter C. Doherty was born to Linda and Eric Doherty on October 15, 1940 in Brisbane, Queensland. He has a younger brother Ian. Born in a traditional orthodox family, young Doherty attended Indooroopilly State High School. He completed his formal education and went on to earn his Bachelor degree in Veterinary Science in 1962. Four years later in 1966, he attained his Master’s degree from the University of Queensland. Thereafter, he moved to Scotland where he gained admission at the University of Edinburgh, to attain his PhD in Pathology.


Upon attaining his PhD in 1970, he returned to Australia where he started research at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra. It was while in John Curtin School that he first collaborated with Rolf Zinkernagel, studying the role of white blood cells, known as T lymphocytes in mice infected with a particular type of virus able to cause meningitis. They reached the conclusion that it was the strength of the immune response that caused fatal destruction of the brain cells in mice infected with this virus. For testing the theory, they mixed the virus-infected mouse cells with T lymphocytes from other infected mice. Interestingly, they discovered that the T lymphocytes did destroy the virus-infected cells, but only those that belonged to a genetically identical strain of mice. Those belonging to other strain were ignored by the T lymphocyte.

His research basically focussed on immune system and how the body’s immune cells protect against the viruses. His research concluded the fact that T cells recognized two signals on an infected cell before destroying it. The first was the fragment of the invading virus that the cell displayed on its surface and the other was how the T cells recognized their target antigens in combination with major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins. The duo discovered that the MHC which was formerly believed to be responsible for the rejection of incompatible tissues during transplantation was in fact responsible for the body fighting meningitis viruses too.

Academically, he held the profile of a teacher at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia for seven years from 1975 to 1982, after which he headed the Department of Pathology at the Curtin School in Canberra from 1982 to 1988. In 1988, he took up the position of the chairman of the Department of Immunology at the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Over his career, he has authored various books including the semi-autobiographical book, ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize’ published in 2005, ‘A Light History of Hot Air’ published in 2007 and ‘Sentinel Chickens’ in 2012. Currently, he serves as the faculty member for three months of the year at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. For the rest of the nine months, he works in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne, Victoria.

Awards & Achievements

In 1987, he was elected as the Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1995, he was conferred with America’s top medical award, Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. In 1996, he received the prestigious and highly-esteemed Nobel Prize in physiology or Medicine along with Rolf Zinkernagel for discovering how immune system recognizes the virus-infected cells. A year later, in 1997, he was bestowed with the honor of being named as the Australian of the Year. Same year, he received the title of the Companion of the Order of the Australia.

Personal Life & Legacy

He married Penny Stephens, a microbiology student, in 1965. The couple has been blessed with two sons, James and Michael. He is the patron of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. The institution is home to a group of infection and immunology experts who constantly fight against infectious disease in humans.


This Australian veterinary surgeon and researcher is the first person with a veterinary qualification to win Nobel Prize for Medicine.

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