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16 Oct 2020

Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty celebrates his 80th birthday

University of Melbourne Laureate Professor Peter Doherty, the Patron and namesake of the Doherty Institute, has celebrated his 80th birthday this week.

Over a distinguished career, Professor Doherty has revolutionised our understanding of infection and immunity.

He shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1996 with Swiss colleague Rolf Zinkernagel for their discoveries concerning the specificity of the cell-mediated immune defence and the biological role of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). This triggered a new field of science, with applications in transplantation and cancer treatments.

In 2014, the Peter Doherty Institute in Infection and Immunity was established and named in his honour. It was conceived and purpose-built to respond to a pandemic, and Professor Doherty has been instrumental in advancing the Australian public’s understanding of SARS-CoV-2 through effective public science communication.

Professor Doherty’s contribution to science has never been more vital than it is today.

Friends and colleagues paid tribute to the achievements of Professor Doherty and his leadership in the field of science:

Professor Katherine Kedzierska: “This is the perfect opportunity for me to thank Peter for the inspiring mentoring and guidance he’s provided to me over the years. I was extremely fortunate that my post-doc was with Peter - it was an amazing experience. Peter provided those of us in the lab with support, independence and invaluable advice and tips, like: Make sure you write every day, never become bitter and never lose your enthusiasm. Peter, on behalf of all those you have mentored over the years I’d like to wish you a happy birthday.”

Dr Robert Webster: “To quote Tony Fauci: “The discovery of Doherty and Zinkernagel ranks among the most important in the field of immunology, because of its wide influence in the fields of infectious diseases, autoimmunity, transplantation immunity, rheumatology and cancer. It remains absolutely current today.” Everyone at St Jude’s sends their best wishes for your 80th birthday and remembers you as the most approachable scientist at St Jude’s.”

Professor Richard Larkins: “I consider my role in persuading Peter to come back to the University of Melbourne as one of my greatest achievements as Dean. We always knew Peter was a great immunologist but we did not know that a delightful character he is. He’s a tireless warrior in advocating for the role of science in political decision-making and is a generous mentor to young scientists. Peter, congratulations on your birthday and thank you for everything you’ve done since you returned to Australia - you’ve enriched the quality of scientific discourse in the country.”

Professor Jim McCluskey: “There are some similarities between Peter and neurologist Oliver Sachs. Both are polymaths and prolific writers. At 79, Oliver Sachs identified with gold on the period table; at 80 it was mercury. Peter, today you turn 80 and you are a mercurial and fantastic intellect of man. We admire you and all that you’ve achieved.”

Professor Nicole La Gruta: “Happy birthday Peter. When I arrived in your laboratory at the University of Melbourne, I was shy and awe-struck by him. Here are two things that Peter gave me: he was utterly selfless in his mentorship and he actively sought out opportunities for us so that we could be established as independent researchers. The second was that he gave me professional confidence. I can’t put into words how much Peter influenced my career and I’ll be eternally grateful. Thanks very much Peter, have a very happy birthday.”

Professor Stephen Turner: “One thing that’s always struck me about Peter is that he is incredibly humble. I can’t articulate the influence and legacy that Peter has had across our careers. A couple of key pieces of advice he has given us, whether we asked for it or not, include: Always have respect for data and evidence (“Let me commune with the data,” he’d say), an experiment is never done until it’s published , never use more words than you need to and surround yourself with people who make you look good. Peter’s generous, supportive nature is something that I’ve tried to use as a model throughout my career. It’s been an honour and a privilege. Happy birthday Peter.”

Professor Rolf Zinkernagel: “It’s my extreme pleasure to congratulate you through your 80th anniversary. We’re linked together for life and I’m very happy about that. Peter, have an extraordinary day today for your 80th.”

Professor Sharon Lewin: “Peter, we love your energy, passion and excitement in science. I’ve always been struck by how kind and engaged you are. You’re a wonderful role model for all of us at the Institute and inspire everything that we do here every day. It’s a very special day and very special year, and I hope to celebrate with you in person next year.”

From all of us here at the Doherty Institute, happy birthday Peter.