First published June 1, 2005 - More info
Didier Trono has been dean of the School of Life Sciences, a new entity at The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), since October 1, 2004. The JCI talked to Trono, a prominent HIV researcher and former clinician, about his first 6 months on the job and about the ups and downs of starting a life sciences school at a renowned technology institute.
JCI: How were you selected for this position?
Trono: I was selected through an international search process.
JCI: What are your main goals as dean?
Trono: The School of Life Sciences is the new kid on the block at EPFL, born from the strong belief that biomedical research will reach new frontiers by integrating quantitative approaches and technologies yielded by the hard sciences. There is an incredible thirst for biological questions amongst our colleagues here from chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, engineering, and so on. Also, the EPFL bachelor and master programs, its very international faculty, and its lakeside campus attract some of the very best students not only from Switzerland and other European countries but also from the rest of the world. [This is] a unique opportunity to create a top-level biomedical research institution, where the traditional life sciences fortes of the Geneva-Lausanne region, in genetics, molecular and cellular biology, are taken to new dimensions within the setting of a leading institute of technology. My responsibility as dean is to help this vision come true.
JCI: What does your research focus on?
Trono: The main focus of my laboratory has been for many years the molecular biology of HIV infection with, lately, a special interest in innate cellular factors that confer resistance against retroelements, be it HIV itself, hepatitis B virus, or endogenous retroelements. A few years back, our HIV work led us to develop lentiviral vectors. We keep exploring their potential for human gene therapy and as tools for the study of mammalian genetics.
JCI: Do you plan to continue this work, or are your duties mostly administrative now?
Trono: Basic research has been a passion from the day I entered David Baltimore’s laboratory after completing my clinical training in infectious diseases, and I made it very clear before accepting the EPFL job that I would keep doing research. If anything, running a lab places me in a perfect spot to judge whether what we are putting in place is working or not.
JCI: Will you describe your typical day?
Trono: Waking up a bit after 5, clearing up nightly e-mails, brushing through a newspaper for some update on the world, starting with the all-important sports section . . . And that is about it for the routine. The rest is faculty recruitments, core facilities organization, discussions with architects on the building that will add 10,000 square meters of research space to our school within a couple of years. And many discussions with my colleagues on how best to foster our fast-growing programs in cancer research, developmental biology, neurosciences, infectious diseases, structural biology. And for dessert, breezing through the lab and debating with students and postdocs on the implications of their latest result and on the smartest way to get yet one step closer to [answering] the questions that keep us awake at night.
JCI: When you leave, what do you hope to have accomplished?
Trono: [To have] saved the world. But don’t repeat it, in case I come up short . . .