Professor Benjamin Marsland was awarded a 3-year veski innovation fellowship in October 2018.

Professor Marsland returned from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, to take up his position in the Department of Immunology and Pathology, within the Central Clinical School, Monash University.

Project Title: Halting the atopic march: harnessing the skin microbiome in early life to prevent allergies

Statistics show that the burden of allergic disease in Australia has skyrocketed to an all-time high, placing an unprecedented number of lives at risk. Approximately one in five children develop “atopic dermatitis” – a skin disease causing an itchy and often painful rash – in their first two years of life. In a flow-on effect known as the “atopic march”, these children are then more likely to develop asthma – a life-threatening disease affecting one in 10 Australians.

With this in mind, Benjamin’s research goal is to prevent children from developing atopic dermatitis, and subsequently asthma.

In the days and months following birth, bodies are colonised by bacteria and fungi. These microbes, collectively referred to as the “microbiome”, dramatically influence how our immune systems and tissue barriers (such as skin) develop. Benjamin’s team recently discovered that a chemical (known as a “metabolite”), produced by certain healthy bacteria, prevented mice from developing atopic dermatitis and asthma in early life.

His research aims to build on this discovery by conducting further mouse studies, validating the findings in human babies, and moving towards translating his approach into the clinic by providing the foundation for a new Melbourne-based biotech company, or for engaging industry partners.

Ben believes that early life is really important to target, to prevent disease development. Babies are born essentially sterile so they have no microbiome, no bacteria on their skin or in their gut and that microbiome develops in a different way depending on the tissue so the skin microbiome develops differently to the gut microbiome.

Understanding ‘friendly microbes’ may well hold the key to preventing allergic diseases including asthma.

Professor Benjamin Marsland