Gaining ground in the ‘never-ending battle with viruses’ 

Q&A with Professor John Stambas from our Infection, Immunity and Cancer theme.

Professor John Stambas

Professor John Stambas 

Professor of Viral Immunology  


What area of research do you specialise in? 

The Stambas laboratory is focused on understanding the role of host proteins in immune responses targeting influenza virus. We currently have commercially available interventions (vaccines and antivirals) that only target the virus itself making them susceptible to changes in the virus genome.  

This requires reformulation of vaccines on an annual basis and detailed surveillance to ensure antivirals remain effective. Over the past decade, our group has shown that host proteins can influence pathogenesis and impact the overall burden of disease.  


Tell us a little about your career background. 

I have been working in the field of viral immunology for the past 20 years and received my postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty (2002–2009; St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne).  


What fascinates you about viral immunology? 

Viral immunology is an extremely interesting field. We are in a never-ending battle with viruses, trying constantly to stay ahead of the game to minimise their impact on the human population. We are currently focused on the extracellular matrix and its constituents (the supporting structure surrounding cells) and what role it plays in determining the outcomes of respiratory virus infection. This is a very new field and we are global leaders in this research area, especially in the context of the ADAMTS family of extracellular matrix enzymes. The ADAMTS enzymes were previously not associated with viral immunity.  


What does a typical week look like in your role? 

An average week involves overseeing experimental design, planning and data analysis with staff and students.  


What led you to study immunology? 

As a very young child I was fascinated by science, trying to understand how and why things work. My local GP was an inspiration, which led to an interest in biology at high school and a degree in science at university. I completed an honours year and a PhD in the field of immunology where I carefully characterised immune responses against bacteria and viruses, driven by a desire to develop novel intervention strategies to minimise the impact of infection on the human population.   


Career highlights 

  • 4x CIA NHMRC grants  
  • 1x CIA CR Roper Fellowship (University of Melbourne)  
  • 1x CIA American Association of Immunologists Careers in Immunology Fellowship  
  • 1x Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology Gordan Ada Senior Travel Award  
  • 6x American Association of Immunologists Travel Awards  
  • 6x PhD student completions  
  • 7x Honours completions 

What was your career highlight in 2022? 

In 2022, I was CIA on an IMPACT SEED grant, and I supported one student to complete their Hhonours degree.  


Where next? 

Now that we know the ADAMTS extracellular matrix enzymes contribute to the immune response to influenza virus infection, we are looking at developing and optimising interventions that can be translated into the clinic.