Dr Eliana Marino is one of our first seven participants in the pilot year of the JDRF/Macquarie Group Foundation Future Research Leaders Program (FRLP).

Hailing from Venezuela, the bubbly Dr Marino speaks with exuberance and energy. She sees beyond what’s happening on the laboratory benchtop, to how the type 1 diabetes community will benefit as a result of her work. Her own experience with gestational diabetes gave her a glimpse into understanding the balance of a chronic condition with the challenges of everyday life.

Dr Eliana Marino

By day, Dr Marino is a Principal Research Fellow and Head of the Immunology and Diabetes Laboratory at Monash University.  Dr Marino’s research is at the cutting edge of the field and her lab is one of the leading groups worldwide studying the relationship between diet and microbiota and type 1 diabetes.

Dr Marino spoke to us about her experiences in the FRLP program so far, and how her amazing research is breaking new ground towards a therapeutic approach for preventing type 1 diabetes.

Hi, Eliana! Tell us about your research and how it relates to type 1 diabetes?

I’m focusing on how gut microbiota communicate with the immune system. Our research recently investigated, in mice with type 1 diabetes, a diet that after fermentation by the gut microbiota produces high amounts of the short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) acetate and butyrate. The increase of SCFAs reprograms the immune system and protected against type 1 diabetes. High levels of SCFAs were found to improve the integrity of the gut lining, reduce pro-inflammatory factors, and promote immune tolerance. This could have an impact on the course of type 1 diabetes development, potentially stopping the immune attack. I’m also looking at how we can target gut microbiota to reduce the risk of type 1 diabetes-related complications such as kidney disease. We hope to not only stop the progression of the disease but to improve health outcomes in people who already have type 1 diabetes.

So, how would this work in humans? Can we just start eating a certain combination of foods?

We’ve been considering the right therapeutic approach through mouse studies, and the next step would be human clinical trials where we’ll be able to find out more.

The special combination of fibre could potentially be taken as a supplementary powder on yogurt or other type of food. We’ll research the different ways to present it and how this could fit into people’s lifestyles. Alternatively, for those who have dietary limitations − such as intolerance to dairy products − a tablet could be an easier option. All these things need further consideration and testing, and dietitians need to be part of the conversation.

How will being involved in the JDRF/Macquarie Group Foundation’s Future Research Leaders Program allow you to further your research?

The interaction with JDRF at the right moment is so important. There is a huge gap between what happens in advances in medical research and getting treatments to patients. By developing this Program, JDRF has created an ‘innovation centre’ that will put us in contact with the right people to help move our research closer to the people who need it.

How have you found meeting other talented peers in the research industry?

I only knew two of the other participants before we began the Program, but I’ve now got another six amazing collaborators. Collaborations are already happening – I’ve met with three of others outside of the Program already.

On a daily basis, researchers are so busy at our work to get the time to think about collaborating, but the program really allows a beautiful engagement to happen. The program has really fulfilled my expectations.

Photo credit: Monash University

Stay tuned to our blog to meet more of our FRLP pilot year participants, and get to know more about their research.

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