Immunologist Wioleta Marut: I want to explore the role of the microbiome in health and disease
Wioleta Marut recently joined the Strain Development Team at Winclove Probiotics. With her wide experience in preclinical research, she will help us find the best strains for our premium probiotic formulations. We interviewed her about the impact of her new job, her goals, and her passion.
You earned your master’s degree in Molecular Biology at the University of Silesia in Poland, graduating cum laude. In Paris you did a PhD-fellowship in Immunology and Molecular Biology, cum laude there as well. Where does your interest for immunology come from?
“During my Biotechnology bachelor’s programme, I started working as a volunteer at the Molecular Biology department of the Cancer Institute in Gliwice, Poland. Cancer is difficult to fight; several people in my family suffered from it. I stayed at the Cancer Institute to do my Master’s, and they assigned me a project on immunology. It was my first contact with immunology and made me realize the importance of the immune system in every disease.”
How did you end up in the Netherlands?
“In Paris I started working on specific immune cells related to cancer, but after one year the focus shifted to systemic sclerosis, a very complex auto-immune disease. Because of my growing expertise in this field, a Dutch professor at UMC Utrecht offered me a job in his academic lab to do preclinical work on systemic fibrosis, designing in vivo and in vitro experiments. That is how I ended up in the Netherlands.”
Where does your interest in microbes come from?
“During my last 3 years in UMC Utrecht, I worked as an assistant professor and was able to decide which direction I wanted to go with my team. I have an auto-immune disease myself and I read a lot of articles about people sharing their experience on how lifestyle and diet helped them to improve their quality of life with complex diseases. Since the role of the microbiome was a hot topic at the time, I knew from then on which direction I wanted to go: exploring the role of the microbiota in disease. However, I had an issue with getting grants on that topic.”
And then Winclove Probiotics came into the picture?
“At first, I started working as a team leader for a company in Leiden to study the role of immune cells in fibrotic auto-immune diseases. And then, by chance I saw this job opening at Winclove Probiotics and I thought this is an opportunity for me to explore what I wanted to explore during my academic time; how microbes act in order to help patients improve their quality of life with probiotics.”
What is your role in the Strain Development Team at Winclove?
“My role is to design experiments that establish the influence of all our strains on different immune cell types. Take for example dendritic cells that are located in the lamina propria (gut barrier): they are the first immune cells making contact with the rest of the body. When dendritic cells are activated, they release a lot of cytokines that play an important role in overall health, but also in specific diseases. By establishing the unique effects of our strains on different immune cell types, we can expand and refine our database.”
Have you set yourself goals in the team?
“In the near future I want to test the strains in much more complex models. These are models that simulate the three levels of the gut: the bacteria, epithelial cells, and immune cells. This in vitro model, that is available in UMC Utrecht, can test how our bacterial strains communicate with the epithelial cells and interact with the immune cells. We can observe the pathways that are really involved per strain, and this will help us to create an even bigger dataset.”
How does this all benefit our business partners?
“If we receive a request for a probiotic formulation that targets a specific disease pathway, we can pick the most suitable strains ‘off the shelf’. This way of working is more efficient, faster and provides our partners with an even more reliable, evidence-based product. Furthermore, we learn more about our current formulations’ mechanisms of action regarding the immune system. This enables us to improve our formulations.”
What makes working at Winclove Probiotics enjoyable?
“It is mainly the atmosphere and the good vibes that surround me; people are really nice, helpful and non-judgmental. Winclove Probiotics is a relatively small, people-oriented company, and very open for new suggestions.”