Allergies & asthma in young children under the microscope

An immunologist studying allergies in young children in Switzerland, and in particular the onset of the asthma, has been lured to Melbourne to continue his ground-breaking research at Monash University.

New Zealand born researcher Professor Ben Marsland was named the 2018 veski innovation fellow on 23 October. Prof Marsland’s research is focused on trying to understand how to combat or prevent the development of allergies in infants which can progress into life threatening asthma.

“Australia has a major problem. It has one of the highest levels of allergies in the world. So, we are looking at around 1 in 5 children having atopic dermatitis. With asthma we are talking about one in ten children, so it is a major epidemic in Australia,” Professor Marsland said.

“We think that if we are able to reduce the incidence of allergies on the skin early in life then that is going to be a great way of preventing systemic sensitisation or children becoming allergic and perhaps that will also reduce the risk of asthma in later life.”

Melburnians are well aware of the risk that asthma has on the general population. In November 2016 hospitals were overwhelmed when a freak thunderstorm asthma event took place after a cool change and storm caused respiratory problems for thousands of people.

Professor Marsland, from Monash University’s Central Clinical School, began his post-doctoral research in Switzerland in 2004 at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, followed by establishing his own research group at the University Hospital in Lausanne where he and his team gained international recognition.

“The veski innovation fellowships bring the world’s best medical innovators to Victoria, to help develop the breakthroughs that will benefit local patients and industry growth.” Minister for Innovation and the Digital Economy Philip Dalidakis said.

Professor Marsland's wife and two young children have moved to Melbourne with him. His wife (Nicola Harris) is a professor of intestinal immunology and was also recruited to Monash.

“Melbourne is an amazing centre for research and innovation. From the immunology viewpoint it is one of the best centres in the world. There are a huge number of great researchers around. So I think being able to come back ‘down under’ being a kiwi to one of the great immunology powerhouses is a win win situation for me,” Professor Marsland said.

“One of the other key factors about Victoria and one of things that is supported by the veski innovation fellowship and the central clinical school at Monash University is the translation of our research to move beyond fundamental discoveries towards treatments which will influence children’s health in particular.”

veski innovation fellowships bring outstanding international scientists and researchers, typically in the top five percent of their respective fields, to Victoria. Professor Marsland is the 27th veski innovation fellow.

“veski’s mission is to connect, support and inspire the people and organisations needed to grow Australia’s innovation culture and we welcome Professor Marsland and his family to the veski connected innovation community,” veski MD & chief executive Ms Julia L Page said.

veski was officially launched on 10 May 2004 and continues to receive seed funding from the State Government of Victoria, which it builds upon through strategic partnerships and collaborations with business, academic and philanthropic organisations.