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Prebys Research Hero: Awardee

Sujan Shresta

Professor, La Jolla Institute for Immunology

Dr. Shresta’s research focuses on protecting the public against several medically relevant viruses, including dengue, Zika, West Nile, Powassan, and other pathogens that manipulate human immune cells and which have the potential to cause long-term neurological issues such as brain fog and potentially even dementia. Host-pathogen interactions differ depending on patients populations, geographical locations, and other environmental factors, and Dr. Shresta leads international collaborative efforts that are beneficial to both high- and low-income countries.

“This grant allows me to do science that is really important—not just for one community or country, but for all of us sharing this planet and its ecosystems."

Dr. Sujan Shresta

Dr. Sujan Shresta: Leading Change in Global Health

In the busy science labs, some stories just stand out. Dr. Sujan Shresta, who came to the US from Nepal as a teenager, has become a source of hope and a force of innovation in the world of infectious disease research.


She was recently awarded a $500,000 Prebys Research Heroes grant, part of a $10 million two-year initiative that celebrates the contributions female scientists make in the field of biomedical research, and which honors outstanding San Diego scientists as a key lever to create a more innovative, equitable, and collaborative medical research system. 


Born in a country where infectious diseases are a daily reality, Dr. Shresta’s commitment to combatting these life-threatening foes was sparked early. It’s a resolve that has carried her to the cutting-edge institutions of San Diego, where she now works with some of the brightest minds in science to tackle diseases that affect people around the world. 


Dr. Shresta’s research focuses on the cunning flaviviruses, such as dengue, Zika, West Nile, and others that cleverly manipulate human immune cells and have the potential to cause long-term neurological issues such as brain fog and potentially even dementia. Understanding how these viruses operate and developing vaccines to prevent them would have dramatic benefits.  


The path to scientific breakthroughs is paved with challenges, from securing funding to the battle against the constantly mutating viruses themselves. “There’s a lot of rejection,” Dr. Shresta admits, “but you never give up applying for funding.” Her resilience is something she instills in her team, teaching them that 90 percent of experiments might not work, but that it’s the 10 percent that could make all the difference and change the world. 


Mentoring is a key part of Dr. Shresta’s work. She credits her own mentors with her success and now pays it forward. “My PhD mentor gave me the freedom to ask questions and helped me understand the importance of forging mutually beneficial collaborations with researchers from various scientific background and training,” she recalls, a philosophy she continues with her own students. 


Collaboration is a key aspect of her work. Gone are the days of isolated research, Dr. Shresta notes. Today, there’s a far greater focus on international collaborations and interdisciplinary approaches. Dr. Shresta leads by example, collaborating across continents, bringing together diverse experts, and never hesitating to share information. 


One story that stands out is of a first-generation student who was struggling to pass his classes. He was the product of a challenging childhood with no role models, but he was determined to turn his life around. Dr. Shresta was impressed when he continued to show up even though there was no formal opening available in her lab. This level of persistence has served the young man well. The student was part of the Shresta team for three years. Now, as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, he recently sent Dr. Shresta a bouquet of flowers as a gesture of gratitude to a mentor who believed in him. 


Being named as a Prebys Research Hero was an acknowledgment that the hard work is worth it. “It’s humbling to be recognized alongside such great colleagues,” Dr. Shresta notes with a gracious smile. “This grant allows me to do science that is really important—not just for one community or country, but for all of us sharing this planet and its ecosystems.” 


One of her most important goals is to develop a single vaccine that would be effective against several flaviviruses, which is especially important for countries that can’t afford multiple vaccines or complicated and expensive equipment for storage or transit.  


Dr. Shresta’s story is one of remarkable achievements, but it’s also about the countless lives she has touched with her work and the inspiration she provides to a new generation of scientists. Her work is a powerful reminder of the difference one person can make when they are driven by a passion to serve and a dedication to give back. 

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