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Nobel Prize announced for work in immunology

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden (CNN) -- The Nobel Assembly announced October 7 that the $1.12 million dollar Nobel Prize in medicine would be awarded to a team studying how the immune system recognizes viruses.

Australian Peter Doherty and Swiss-born Rolf Zinkernagel worked on the prize-winning project while both were at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra, Australia, from 1973 to 1975.

The pair's work "relates both to efforts to strengthen the immune response against invading microorganisms and certain form of cancer, and to efforts to diminish the effects of autoimmune reactions in inflammatory disease," the Karolinska Institute said in a statement announcing the prize.

The two scientists used mice to study how the immune system, particularly T-lymphocytes, recognize virus-infected cells and distinguish them from healthy cells. They discovered "killer lymphocytes," which in a test tube attacked and killed cells infected by a virus. But they also discovered that the "killer T-cells" worked only against a specific virus in a specific mouse and could not be transferred to a different animal.

Such discoveries have had a significant impact on the study of diseases such as rheumatic conditions, multiple sclerosis and diabetes, the institute said.

"Where infectious diseases are concerned, the new knowledge provides a better platform for the construction of new vaccines," the institute's statement continued.

Doherty

The 55-year-old Doherty is now chairman of the Department of Immunology at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he is also a professor and the University of Tennessee's College of Medicine.

He studied in the Australian state of Queensland and in Edinburgh, Scotland, and began his medical career as a veterinary officer at the Animal Research Institute in Brisbane.

Zinkernagel

Zinkernagel, 52, studied in his native Basel, Switzerland and in Canberra, and is now head of the Institute of Experimental Immunology at the University of Zurich.

The Nobel Prizes, endowed by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, are awarded annually to those whose work is thought to have benefited mankind most.

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