Interview – Dr Janin Chandra, Admedus
Janin is appointed as Senior Scientist at Admedus Immunotherapies Pty Ltd based at the Translational Research Institute in Brisbane. She studied Biology at the University in Frankfurt (M) in Germany, with an early interest in infectious diseases and immunology. She undertook her PhD studies in Zurich/ Switzerland, investigating immunological mechanisms involved in the autoimmune disease Multiple Sclerosis. From there she came to Brisbane with a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship from the University of Queensland to work with Prof. Ian Frazer and learn about chronic human papillomavirus infection and its capability to immune-suppression and transformational potential which can lead to cancerogenesis. Prof. Ian Frazer encouraged Janin in 2015 to apply for a scientist position in the DNA vaccine-developing company, where she is employed since.
What’s your current area of research?
The company developed a DNA vaccine platform based on codon-optimization and mixing constructs which encode both secreted and proteasome-targeted proteins. This approach has been shown to increase immunogenicity of DNA vaccines and in particular enhance a CD8+ T cells response, which is crucial to target chronic viral infections and cancers. We have completed a Phase I clinical trial demonstrating the safety and tolerability of a HSV-2 DNA vaccine in healthy volunteers, and are currently running a Phase II trial in symptomatic HSV-2+ patients. Additionally, we are developing a DNA vaccine against HPV16+-associated malignancies such as cervical cancer or head and neck cancer.
What drew you to microbiology originally?
Science has been my passion since high school, with a particular interest in infectious agents, disease, and how our bodies combat disease. I was always particularly interested in viral infections. As we become better in combating the “easy” infectious agents with antibiotics and vaccinations, evolution finds its way to target us with more “tricky” viruses, which are able to hide and escape our immune system, leading to chronic infections and possibly even cancer. Finding treatments for these diseases is far more complex and intrigues me every day I come to work.
What does a standard day involve for you?
My days start early since becoming a mum, toddlers hardly sleep longer than 5:30. Therefore I usually get to work at 7:30, where the office is still quiet. I am a morning person, so I get most challenging tasks going first. My role involves planning, analysing and interpreting experiments, writing reports for managers, coordinating collaborations, researching relevant vaccine developments from others, writing manuscripts of pre-clinical studies and clinical trials, communicating plans and strategies with the team, etc. Even though I am still very much engaged in research, working in a company is very different from working as a researcher at university. While as university researcher you are often conducting experiments in order to find out how things work, in the company we are mostly conducting experiments to find out how to make something work, in order to invent a treatment that can become a product. Research here is very goal-oriented. KPI’s and milestones help us to keep our eyes on the ball of what we want to achieve, and reporting to our peers about ongoing process keeps us focussed, motivated and reflected. I enjoy the efficiency and the constant intent with which we work in the company, which makes me feel like I am contributing to something significant.
How do you like to spend your time outside the lab?
I have a young family, so naturally I spend my free time with the kid. I love being a mum and I also love to come to work, so work has become more of my hobby than a job. Besides, we are a very active family, spending most weekends outside at events, markets, the beach and with friends. My husband and I met latin dancing, which is one of our passions. So whenever we get a chance for a babysitter we will go out for a spin. I also love yoga, cycling, hiking, travelling, concerts and books.
What advice would you give to students/ECRs who are pursuing a career in research?
Ask yourself who you are and what you want to accomplish in life. It is always good to do things you are passionate about, as it will feel easy to put in the effort, hours and motivation in order to be successful. While you are in a certain stage in life, always think ahead and map out what you need in order to reach your goals. Keep your eyes open, talk to people from different areas for inspiration and self-reflection, and re-evaluate frequently if you are on the right path to your goals. Also, a good work ethics always helps to keep people appreciating you and likely wanting to support you in your future career choices.
And when you are unsure where to go next, go travelling or take a time-out. It helps to self-reflect, re-evaluate your values, and identify what you would like to contribute in life.