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Malaghan visiting researcher: Professor Severine Navarro

31 August 2023

Professor Severine Navarro heads the Mucosal Immunology Lab at QIMR Berghofer and is the Director of Discovery at the Centre for Childhood Nutrition Research at Queensland University of Technology, Australia. She recently visited the Malaghan Institute as part of a collaboration exploring how environmental factors play a role in training our immune cells in early life.

Prof Franca Ronchese, Adrian Ilich, Prof Severine Navarro, Dr Olivier Lamiable

Early childhood is a particularly important period for the immune system as it learns to distinguish between threats that need a response and things that are harmless and can be tolerated. These early learnings establish the foundation for immune function for the remainder of our lives.  If tolerance is not developed against non-threatening substances, it can lead to allergies or autoimmune diseases.

“The environment that we and our children are exposed to is not helping our immune system to function in the best way possible,” says Prof Navarro. 

“Between the highly processed food that we eat, sedentary lifestyle, focus on minimising pathogen exposure, even more so since the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a very high risk that our immune system will not be able to self-regulate to control allergic and autoimmune responses.”

Prof Navarro’s research aims to understand the cellular signals that help the immune system to determine that something is not a threat and therefore tolerate it.

“We are interested in the influence of environmental factors, such as diet and exposure to parasites, to better define the signals that induce tolerance,” says Prof Navarro.

She is using multiomics, an approach where different cellular and molecular data is taken, to provide a comprehensive understanding of how tolerance develops in early life.

Prof Navarro is collaborating with Dr Olivier Lamiable in the Ronchese Laboratory at the Malaghan Institute. As a bioinformatics expert, Dr Lamiable is supervising one of Prof Navarro’s PhD students, Adrian Ilich, helping him analyse and make sense of the multiomics data he is collecting.

“Thanks to Franca Ronchese, my lab has established a very fruitful collaboration with Dr Olivier Lamiable which has resulted in student co-supervision and a grant application this year,” says Prof Navarro.

Prof Navarro hopes that her research will lead to the discovery of novel immunotherapies that will restore and enhance natural tolerance to treat allergic and autoimmune diseases.  

“We have discovered that some of these novel immunotherapeutic drugs could even prevent the development of diseases if given in the first weeks of life,” she says.

“If these debilitating diseases could be treated in a more durable manner or even prevented, I would like to play a small part in it.”