Our Team


Prof Valerie Verhasselt

Has been holding the Larsson-Rosenquist Chair in Human Lactology at the University of Western Australia, School of Molecular Science, since August 2017. Her translational research is aimed at understanding how maternal milk impacts on immune development, education and long term homeostasis. A major objective guiding her work is the identification of factors which could endow breastfeeding with the capacity to prevent allergic and metabolic disease as potently as it does for infectious disease.

Valérie Verhasselt trained at the University of Medicine of Brussels (ULB, Belgium) where she obtained the diploma of Medical Doctor (1992), Specialist in Internal Medicine (2000) and a PhD in Immunology (1999). In 2004, she moved to France (Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis) and developed the concept of breastfeeding induced tolerance for prevention of allergy. She obtained a tenured researcher position at INSERM in 2008 and created Immune Tolerance team in 2012 in Nice (France). In 2017, she was granted the first Chair in Human Lactology at UWA. Her research has been published in prestigious reviews such as Nature Medicine, Gut, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Lancet Infectious Disease. The French Académie Nationale de Médecine (2012) and Académie des Sciences (2008) have acknowledged her major contribution in the field of prevention of allergy through maternal milk.


Akila Rekima, PhD

After receiving my master degree in 2008, I have been working in the team of Prof Valerie Verhasselt for 9 years. My research was focused on the mechanisms of action of breastmilk on the function of the immune system. During this period, I developed my scientific skills on the regulation of gut mucosa homeostasis in early life and allergic disease. In 2017, I obtained my PhD degree researching breastmilk factors that could prevent or prime allergic disease in the long term. My fundamental and translational research have highlighted some critical factors in early life that could potentiate allergic disease susceptibility in the long term. This is a critical step to improve allergy prevention in early post-natal life.

This year I joined the University of Western Australia, where I continue to focus on the understanding of which factor in breastmilk could impact on the immune cells development.





Lieke van den Elsen, PhD

Dr. Lieke van den Elsen completed her PhD degree in immunopharmacology with Prof. Johan Garssen at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Her research focussed on the immunomodulatory effects of lipids, more specifically the prevention of allergic disease with fish oil in both human infants and animal models. In 2013 Lieke moved to Wellington, New Zealand to work as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research. Here she studied the role of the gut microbial composition and the beneficial effects of dietary components in early life for optimal immune development. This included models for vaccination, allergy and obesity.

In January 2018 Lieke joined the team of Professor Valérie Verhasselt at the University of Western Australia to work on the impact of colostrum on life long metabolic health. With this project she hopes to gain a better understanding of the mechanism of action of specific factors in colostrum and contribute to the prevention of obesity-related diseases.




Patricia Macchiaverni, PhD

Dr. Patricia Macchiaverni is a biologist and holds a Ph.D. degree in Immunology with Prof. Antonio Condino Neto at University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil in collaboration with Dr. Valérie Verhasselt, from University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, France. Her research was focused in human cohort and animal models to assess whether early exposure to respiratory allergens transferred through breast milk would affect child’s subsequent development of allergic sensitization. In 2014, she transitioned to the Pharmaceutical industry to work as scientific medical manager at Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies and Roche pharma.

In October 2017 Patricia Macchiaverni joined the team of Professor Valérie Verhasselt at the University of Western Australia to investigate the impact of protease activity from house dust mite allergens in maternal milk on allergic outcomes in early live. With this project she aimed to identify some immunomodulatory factors in breast milk that can modulate this protease activity and contribute to the prevention of allergy.