Who is Rolf Zinkernagel?

Not that you should know, Rolf Zinkernagel is a celebrated Swiss physician and scientist who with Peter Doherty received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for, as the award put it, discoveries concerning the specificity of the cell mediated immune defence.

Rolf M. Zinkernagel was born on January 6, 1944 in Basel, Switzerland. He entered medical school at the University there in 1962 and graduated as a physician in 1968. (in Europe a student generally goes straight from high school around age 18 and spends 6 years in medical school).

After medical school, Zinkernagel did not become a practicing physician but trained in biomedical research in Switzerland and Australia: in the Laboratory for Electron Microscopy in Basel (1969- 1970), the Institute of Biochemistry at Lausanne (1971-1973), and the Department of Microbiology of the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University in Canberra from 1973- 1975. Along the way he was awarded an MD (for a doctoral thesis) in Basel in 1970 and a PhD from the Australian National University in Canberra in 1975.

Zinkernagel and Doherty in 1995 had won the Lasker Award which commonly heralds the Nobel Prize. (Since 1946, 56 winners of the Lasker Awards have later gotten Nobel Prize. And for 10 consecutive years (1979-1989) the Nobel Prize went to a scientist who had won a Lasker).

The 1996 Nobel Prize bestowed upon Zinkernagel and Doherty was for research they had done in Canberra in 1973-75, over 20 years before, on how the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells. During studies of the response of mice to viruses, they found that lymphocytes (white blood cells) must recognize both the virus and certain "self" molecules in order to kill the virus-infected cells.

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