From LMP to Harvard: Q&A with LMP alumnus Stephen Rubino

Thursday, May 15, 2014
Stephen Rubino
LMP alumus Stephen Rubino

In 2013, LMP alumnus Stephen Rubino (PhD) completed his highly successful PhD with Professor Stephen Girardin (PhD). During his degree, he published in several high-ranking journals including Nature Medicine in 2011. He was recently awarded a prestigious Human Frontier Science Program postdoctoral fellowship, and will be studying the role of innate immunity in central nervous system homeostasis and neurodegeneration with Dr. Howard Weiner at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Rubino discusses his experience at LMP, what life is like as a postdoctoral fellow and what he plans to do in the future.

What were you researching with LMP? During my PhD, I investigated how a family of receptors that can initiate innate immune responses to bacterial products, called Nod-Like Receptors (NLRs), regulates protective immunity in the intestinal mucosa. We found that two such NLRs, Nod1 and Nod2, regulate a very rapid (within hours) T cell response during infection with enteric pathogens that precedes the normal kinetics that one would normally observe for T cell activation. Interestingly, this response was critically dependent on the normal enteric microbiota, further suggesting that NLRs are important mediators of microbial/host crosstalk in the intestine.

Why did you choose to work with Professor Stephen Girardin? During my undergraduate degree, I realized that inflammation and inflammatory signaling pathways are very important modifiers of many diseases, including infections, chronic diseases (such as atherosclerosis), cancer etc. Therefore, for my graduate program, I was interested in further exploring the cellular and molecular processes that govern the initiation and regulation of inflammation. Luckily, Stephen had just started his lab at LMP investigating the biology of NLRs, which at the time were still a very new family of innate immune receptors and had not been thoroughly investigated in disease models. Needless to say, I was very interested and applied to the program and the rest is history.

What were some of the highlights of your PhD? I was very fortunate to work with excellent colleagues during my time in the lab. In collaboration with Kaoru Geddes, a postdoc in the Philpott lab, we published the bulk of our work on Nod1 and Nod2 signaling in the mucosa in the July 2011 issue of Nature Medicine. I also had the opportunity to publish several other manuscripts and reviews, and to collaborate with other labs on projects investigating various aspects of intestinal immunity.

What are you currently doing at Harvard? I’m currently investigating the role of the innate immune system regulating neuro-inflammation and neurodegenerative diseases in the lab of Dr. Howard Weiner. I’ve essentially swapped one complex system (the gastrointestinal tract) for an even more complicated one (the central nervous system)!

What are you most excited about with your new position? I’m absorbing a whole new field of research (neuroscience/neurology), and learning how to study animal models of multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It’s exciting to start new projects and see what takes off!

How do you balance your work and life? What is this “life” you speak of? All kidding aside, I try to keep as active as possible. Right now, I play softball, bike and practice Judo. I also try to do some volunteering a couple of times a year, although I am still looking into organizations in Boston.

What do you hope to do in the future? I really enjoy academia and, like many young scientists, would like to one day start my own research program. Having said that, who knows what the future holds!

What advice do you have for students who are thinking about doing a postdoctoral fellowship? Plan ahead. Start looking at potential research areas and labs a year before graduating to give yourself ample time to find the right fit, and apply for as many fellowships as possible. It is always beneficial to bring your own money to a new lab – that makes you an attractive candidate. I would also say make sure you are still having fun doing research because the reality is that, as a postdoc, you will be underpaid and overworked, so you better enjoy what you’re doing!