Science in her blood

Profiling Professor Dianna Magliano, SAGE Academic lead, Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne

Professor Dianna Magliano

Working at both Monash University and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Professor Dianna Magliano loves her work as it helps to make a real difference to people’s lives.

At Monash she works as the coordinator of the Master of Public health and at the Baker Institute she is Laboratory Head – Diabetes and Population – where she and her team are dedicated to understanding the risk factors and cause of diabetes, and the relationship diabetes has with other chronic diseases.

Professor Magliano was interested in science even when she was a small child.

“I was extremely curious, always wondering why things are the way they are, how things were made and how they worked.

“As I grew older, I realised it was science I loved and wanted to study,” she said.

At high school Professor Magliano was good at maths and science, but an all-rounder. Then in Year 10 she became really good at maths and science and chose that path for her future studies and career.

 

 Focus on medical science

She kicked off her undergraduate studies at the University of Melbourne with a general science degree, covering all different sciences from earth science to chemistry and biology, but after a year she moved to a more focused medical science degree at RMIT University.

Her focus on humans and how they worked paid off. Continuing her studies at RMIT, she received a Bachelor of Applied Science, an Honours degree and then a PhD. Carrying out her research work at Fairfield Hospital, Professor Magliano’s PhD looked at the cycle of the rubella virus and understanding its replication.

Post doctorate, she started a job in a world-class laboratory at Murdoch University, with a boss who published regularly in Nature.

“But ultimately that wasn’t for me and I switched to a role in epidemiology and public health. A friend organised a meeting with her head of school who worked in this area and I ended up being hired on the spot.

“Although I didn’t have real epidemiology or public health experience, the head of school said I had very good basic science knowledge and experience and would know how to run a controlled experiment properly … so that was good!”

Pivotal career decision

Professor Magliano then studied a Master of Public Health and Epidemiology at Monash University, to increase her knowledge and expertise in this discipline, and taught at Monash for 15 years.

During this period, she moved to work at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in a data-driven role – which ended up being a pivotal decision in her career.

“I was thinking about working with either HIV or diabetes – both interested me a lot. In the end I chose diabetes as it is a well-funded disease and I felt that it would be an increasing health problem globally,” she said.

She made the right call, as diabetes is now seen as the epidemic of the 21st century and the biggest challenge currently confronting Australia’s health system. Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes and one Australian develops diabetes every five minutes … a shocking statistic.

Her recent research work has involved examining the association between diabetes and cancer using large datasets. With NHMRC project grant funding, she established the ANZ Diabetes and Cancer Collaboration (ANZDCC) dataset, which is a collaboration of 18 Australian cohort studies with the aim to examine the relationship between diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and hypertension.

With the help of NHMRC senior fellowship funding and project funding from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, USA, she is now trying to ascertain what is happening with the diabetes epidemic worldwide.

International role

She also works on other large datasets such as the National Diabetes Service Scheme, which has led to international status demonstrated by invitations to the Diabetes and Cancer consortium, the Lancet Endocrinology Advisory panel, an editor role at Diabetes Research and Clinical practice, the presidency of the International Diabetes Epidemiology Group and being awarded the Jeff Flack Australian Diabetes award.

So with all these achievements what lays ahead for Professor Magliano?

“Ultimately, I would be interested in a diabetes leadership role, possibly at the World Health Organisation, and I’m definitely attracted to an international role.

“I would also be interested in heading up a school at a university or possibly working for a women’s organisation, or gender equity and diversity role as well,” she said.

Being part of SAGE’s first cohort and leading this at her workplace has added to Professor Magliano’s career experience and future options.

“It has been a lot of extra work to add to my already busy workload and to start with it was difficult to do.

Making a difference

“I had a lot of pushback from key people in the organisation and many heated discussions, but the SAGE team worked with me to help me bring those key people along on the journey.”

Professor Magliano feels there is still a long way to go but that the SAGE program is making a difference.

“Quite a few aspects of work at the Baker Institute have changed for the better including flexible work times for women, initiating three female-only fellowships, putting in place carers’ awards for those who have children and take maternity leave, increasing the proportion of female speakers at our Friday meetings, increasing women’s salaries, parity at speaking engagements and more.

“But our recruitment style and processes definitely need to change, we need better Human Resources systems, more transparency and stronger underpinning of initiatives with legislation.”

Tangible impact

The hearts and minds of some older colleagues may have been more difficult to shift, but Professor Magliano definitely feels that a whole new generation are open to and will think very differently indeed.

“The reason I enjoy my work in diabetes is that I feel that it makes a real difference for health professionals, human beings and society globally.

“I find the SAGE work I’m involved with also has a tangible impact for diversity and women moving forward and, in some ways, the SAGE work will benefit even more people and society for the better.”