Derek Doherty completed a PhD on the immunogenetics of liver disease at King’s College London in 1993. He then gained postdoctoral research experience in the groups of Gerald Nepom at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA and Cliona O’Farrelly at University College Dublin, before setting up his own group in Maynooth University in 2000. Dr. Doherty moved to Trinity College in 2008 and was elected to Fellowship in 2012. He has published almost 100 peer reviewed scientific reports and has secured €5.7 million in funds from funding agencies including the Health Research Board, Science Foundation Ireland, Irish Aid, Enterprise Ireland and from industry.
Dr. Doherty’s research background encompasses molecular virology, immunogenetics, hepatology and immunology. His current research is focused on the mechanisms by which the immune system can protect against or cause disease in humans and how it can be manipulated for the development of novel therapies. His group is particularly interested in innate T cells – including natural killer T (NKT) cells, gamma/delta (γδ) T cells and mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells - which recognise and respond to glycolipids, pyrophosphates, carbohydrates and other metabolites that are produced by microbial pathogens or by host cells responding to tumour transformation or viral infection. Innate T cells appear to be “master regulators” of the immune system, being able to influence the activation and subsequent responses of other immune cells, including natural killer cells, dendritic cells, B cells and conventional T cells and which are defective in many infectious and immune-mediated diseases and cancers. In collaboration with clinical colleagues, Dr. Doherty’s group has studied innate T cell populations in patients with infectious disease (including hepatitis B and C virus, HIV, Candida albicans and sepsis caused by bacterial infection), cancer (including chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, liver, lung, colorectal and oesophageal cancer), autoimmune disease (autoimmune hepatitis, coeliac disease and small vessel vasculitis), antibody deficiencies and neonatal encephalopathy. The results show that particular populations of innate T cells can be manipulated to promote the generation of desirable immune responses for the treatment of disease.
In addition to research, Dr. Doherty provides teaching and laboratory training in basic and clinical immunology and global infectious diseases to science and medical undergraduates, and students taking the taught MSc courses in Immunology, Molecular Medicine and Translational Oncology. He has supervised 17 PhD students to completion and currently supervises another five. A major focus of Dr. Doherty’s is to develop educational and research links with African universities with the aim of combating the major diseases associated with poverty, in particular HIV. To this end, he has established funded collaborations with researchers in Uganda and contributed to teaching programmes at Makerere University, Uganda, as a visiting academic with the ultimate aim of implementing interventions that will improve the wellbeing of HIV-positive people in Uganda and similar environments throughout Africa.