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Zinkernagel To Give Dyer Lecture

By Anne A. Oplinger

Swiss immunologist and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Rolf M. Zinkernagel will present the R.E. Dyer lecture on Wednesday, Apr. 14, at 3 p.m. in the Clinical Center's Masur Auditorium. His talk, titled "Antiviral Immunity and Vaccines," will explore a wide range of immunological topics, including why vaccines against persistent infections such as HIV or tuberculosis have been difficult to achieve, while vaccines that maintain or induce high levels of neutralizing antibodies have been much more effective at preventing disease.

A native of Basel, Zinkernagel was awarded an M.D. from the University of Basel in 1968. Deciding not to pursue a career as a surgeon, he undertook postgraduate education in experimental medicine at the University of Zurich and in immunology at the University of Lausanne. In 1973, he began a second postdoctoral course in immunology at the Australian National University, Canberra. Between 1973 and 1975, Zinkernagel and Dr. Peter C. Doherty collaborated in work that led to the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which the two shared.

Dr. Rolf M. Zinkernagel
In their studies of viral infection in mice, Zinkernagel and Doherty discovered how the killer white blood cells of the immune system detect and destroy virus-infected cells while ignoring free-floating virus particles, which are targeted primarily by antibodies. They determined that the killer cells must simultaneously recognize both the "foreign" virus and "self" molecules called major histocompatibility antigens displayed on the surface of cells.

According to the Nobel Prize committee, the discovery, published in the journal Nature in 1974, had an immediate effect on immunological research. It opened doors to a better understanding of the body's reaction to viral assault and also gave researchers important insights into autoimmune disorders such as arthritis, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, in which the body mistakenly attacks its own cells.

Zinkernagel joined researchers at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, in La Jolla, Calif., in 1975. In 1979, he accepted a position at the University of Zurich. He is a professor in the university's department of pathology and has been director of the Institute of Experimental Immunology there since 1992.

Among Zinkernagel's many honors are the Lasker Award, the Drew-Novartis Award and the Starzl Prize, as well as honorary doctorates from 13 universities and other institutions. He is a fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Australian Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Society. He has delivered lectures at institutions around the world, including the Kinyoun Lecture at NIH in 1979.

The Dyer lecture honors former NIH director Dr. Rolla E. Dyer and is presented annually by a scientist who has made outstanding contributions to the field of medicine. For more information or to request reasonable accommodation, contact Hilda Madine at (301) 594-5595.

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