Deputy Director Stephanie Gras

In June 2022, Professor Stephanie Gras stepped into the Deputy Director role at LIMS. Hailing from France with strong roots in Melbourne, Professor Gras specialises in viral and structural immunology… and she’s a pretty mean baker too.

You took up the position of Deputy Director LIMS in June 2022. What do you like most about your role?

The opportunity to shape the future of the La Trobe Instiute for Molecular Science (LIMS) and build momentum for progress.

The position of Deputy Director is both a great honour and a great challenge. LIMS has such a strong place in the Australian research landscape that I feel duty bound to respect its foundations. My goal is to build on these strong foundations and help transition LIMS into its next phase. All the while ensuring that LIMS remains one of the foremost institutes for molecular science in Australia. This is both super exciting and incredibly intimidating!

Since taking on the position I have been awed by the strong support within La Trobe University, and externally, for LIMS. And while the job ahead is not small, I’m lucky to have an amazing team around me that makes this challenge exhilarating.

With the help of those passionate about LIMS we will continue to advance molecular knowledge for a better tomorrow.

You’re a viral and structural immunologist. What does that mean?

Our laboratory is focused on understanding how to combat viral infections. Viruses are part of day-to-day encounters that our immune system needs to deal with. How the immune system “sees”, recognises and eliminates viral infection is not fully understood. Our lab combines both the cellular and structural approaches to understand the immune system action when faced with a viral infection.

What inspired you to pursue this field?

I was fascinated that a tiny virus could wreak such enormous havoc within an individual and their community. That once a virus finds a host it becomes self-sufficient and has everything it needs to complete its destruction.

You are French and came to Australia after completing your PhD. How did that happen?

Whilst undertaking my PhD I read a research article on viral immunology from a group in Melbourne that interested me. I reached out to the lab and arranged a visit whilst I was on my honeymoon in Australia. By the time I returned to France there was a job offer in my inbox. We packed up our life in France and moved to Melbourne four months later.

Securing a postdoc position on the other side of the world, whilst on your honeymoon, is true dedication to your craft…

Work has always been part of my life and research is so firmly melded into my way of living. It is not a 9 to 5 type of job but I truly love what I do and feel very fortunate to have been able to do it for so long. Fortunately my husband understands my passion, he has been always extremely supportive and proud!

What do you do when you are not in the lab or the office?

I am French, so I enjoy good food and I love to cook for others. I am particularly fond of baking. It’s like science, the measurement and method must be precise or it adversely affects the results. In fact, every Friday our lab shares a homemade feast – we sample it and then rate it. Perhaps we are all a little competitive!

What do you love most about LIMS?

The people.

We are extremely fortunate to have brilliant, dynamic, diverse, engaging and fun colleagues at LIMS across different disciplines and schools at La Trobe University. The capacity to bring so many different disciplines to study at the molecular level and provide solutions to so many complex problems is truly inspiring, it is very unique to LIMS. This was the driving force for my lab’s move to LIMS two years ago. There is more creativity coming from diversity. This is where I wanted to be.

If LIMS were a person how would you describe them?

I will choose an object: kaleidoscope.

According to Wikipedia, the Ancient Greek meaning of "kaleidoscope" is derived from (kalos), "beautiful", (eidos), "that which is seen: form, shape" (skopeō), "to look to, to examine", and results in the "observation of beautiful forms."

And this is exactly what LIMS researchers LIMS do. We use multiple disciplines, techniques and diverse viewpoints to examine molecules, unearthing their beauty and providing a better understanding of their function, which in turn provides solutions to a wide range of problems. Like the different parts of the kaleidoscope, our LIMS researchers assemble diverse facets to provide some beautiful results and ground breaking discoveries.

Where do you see yourself in 10-15 years time?

Blue sky dreaming it’s saving lives through developing a vaccine for influenza, SARS-CoV-2, HIV and to promote understanding in a clinical setting.

More on the Gras Lab

My lab has always focussed on HIV and influenza. Growing up in the 1980s HIV was on the forefront of everyone’s minds and through my science and medical degrees I was drawn to researching it. We are working on ways that a vaccine could provide longer lasting protection against certain influenza strains, which may potentially avoid the next pandemic.

Since 2020, we’ve moved into researching the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is scientifically mind-blowing to contribute to something so vitally important, something that will help the entire world. I have particularly enjoyed the collaborative nature of the research world in sharing their work involving SARS-CoV-2, it’s a positive change in the scientific community.

Where can people go for more information?

The Gras Lab at La Trobe University

Twitter @GrasLab (Twitter)

Latest discovery 'Revving up T Cells for immunotheraphy' in Nature Communications