Student Profile - Dr Sebastian Stifter

Student Profile - Dr Sebastian Stifter

Postdoctoral researcher Dr Sebastian Stifter fell in love with biology in high school and then pursued biomedical science at university.

“Honours didn’t satiate my hunger for research so I continued with a PhD,” said Sebastian.

“I was very much interested in biochemistry and molecular biology when I first started my science career and my project was heavily reliant on the same techniques that were used to produce recombinant biologicals such as insulin and interferon, which in the current pharmaceuticals market are multi-billion dollar products.”

“It wasn’t the prospect of money that interested me, but rather knowing the whole process start to finish.”

Since then Sebastian has developed an interest in immunology and how the body mounts an effective immune response against pathogens.

Sebastian’s PhD entailed the production of a new interferon (IFN) called Interferon epsilon and the characterisation of its activities.

“Interferons are very potent molecules that are produced in huge quantities following viral infections,” said Sebastian.

“Interestingly, they're used in clinical settings to treat a number of diseases and malignancies such as Hepatitis C, melanoma and other cancers, and I spent a considerable amount of time producing IFN-epsilon in a 'test-tube' and then treating cells with it to see how the cells behaved.”

Significantly, Sebastian was the first person in the world to produce this new molecule and develop a procedure for doing so in a very reproducible manner.

“I like to joke that throughout my PhD I probably produced about $100 million worth of IFNs!”

In addition to producing IFN-epsilon, Sebastian showed that IFN-epsilon protein, unlike other interferons which are produced after virus infection, is expressed in the female reproductive tract.

“Of course my research wasn't a one-man show and a combined effort of our laboratory and our collaborators' led to a publication in Science—with more publications on the way.”

IFN-epsilon is currently making international headlines and is attracting some very serious research interest.

“I'm extremely proud to say I've done my PhD at the Monash Health Translation Precinct (MHTP) in the Centre for Innate Immunity and Infectious Diseases,” added Sebastian.