Rolf M. Zinkernagel
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1996
Born: 6 January 1944, Basel, Switzerland
Affiliation at the time of the award: University of Zurich, Institute of Experimental Immunology, Zurich, Switzerland
Prize motivation: “for their discoveries concerning the specificity of the cell mediated immune defence”
Prize share: 1/2
When the body's cells are attacked by viruses, the immune system begins killing the infected cells. By studying mice, Rolf Zinkernagel and Peter Doherty proved in 1973 how the immune system recognizes virus-ridden cells. A kind of white blood cell, T-cells, kills the virus-ridden cells, but only if they recognize both the foreign substances, viruses, and certain substances from the body's own cells. The discovery has provided an important basis for vaccines and medicines for infectious diseases, but also for inflammatory diseases and cancer.