Stéphane Kontos, researcher
‘The quality of the EPFL in terms of research infrastructure and the level of scientific discourse is without equal in the world.’
Why did you choose the EPFL and Lausanne to do your doctorate or pursue your career?
SK | The quality of the EPFL in terms of research infrastructure and the level of scientific discourse is without equal in the world. I first visited Professor Hubbell's laboratory in 2006 and was immediately impressed by the diversity of the ongoing projects and the translational character of the research. I also fell under the spell of the city of Lausanne, which was nice and calm that day, 2nd January.
What were your first impressions when you arrived in Lausanne?
SK | I arrived in Lausanne in July 2006, a month before starting at the EPFL, to find an apartment and settle in. It was a wonderful summer! I still remember spending whole days walking around town and reading on the Ouchy quays. Even before I started working at the laboratory, I was certain I'd made the right choice by coming to Lausanne to do my doctorate.
If you had to define the study environment in Lausanne in just three words, what would they be?
SK | Dynamic, international, stimulating.
Can you tell us about your career before taking up your post with the EPFL?
SK | I was born in Greece and spent most of my childhood in Saudi Arabia, where I attended the International School. My family then moved to the United States, to Texas to be precise. After high school in Houston, I had the privilege of being accepted onto a course in chemical engineering at the University of Texas in Austin. Looking back, I realise that I have always sought out educational institutions of high quality. The logical conclusion was to finish my studies by doing a doctorate at the EPFL.
What do you consider to be characteristic of the career of a researcher in your field of work at the EPFL?
SK | In the field of life sciences there are two ingredients for success: a stimulating environment with top researchers and an infrastructure conducive to carrying out research and giving shape to the ideas of the team. It is a formula that the management of the EPFL has adopted on the campus very effectively.
Can you tell us about any memorable events you have experienced during your career in Lausanne?
SK | One day will remain engraved in my memory because it really shaped my career and my future. On this particular day, I was in the lab and discovered a protein that uniquely binds red cells in the blood. This finding opened the way during my thesis to numerous projects, which focused on the controlled release of drugs and the treatment of autoimmune diseases. This discovery is also the basis of our start-up, Anokion, which we launched with the aim of translating this technology into clinical applications.
What do you get out of your work as a researcher and as an entrepreneur?
SK | As a researcher, I've learnt to ask questions and answer them with experimental research. My curiosity is constantly aroused - as soon as it’s satisfied it becomes insatiable once again. As an entrepreneur, I'm now concentrating on translating these scientific findings into therapeutic products. Having the potential to treat patients one day as a result of a discovery made within the scope of my thesis is a truly exciting prospect.
Are you thinking of staying in Lausanne for a few more years?
SK | Lausanne is a dynamic city with many strong points for scientists and entrepreneurs, so I'm counting on staying here for as long as possible!
What is your fondest memory of Lausanne?
SK | Two years ago, we spent a wonderful summer day walking through the Lavaux vineyards, savouring the beauty of the place. Then, in the evening, we stopped off at the Fête de la Cité in Lausanne. That's when I realised how fortunate I was to have chosen Lausanne.
Interview conducted by | Tom Crawford