Four scientific innovations that sound like a hoax, but are surprisingly real

1st April 2021

Today’s global health challenges require new, innovative ways of thinking. ‘Sci-fi’-esque technology is increasingly being developed and deployed to improve public health.

While some of these scientific innovations may sound like a hoax and cause initial scepticism, they are real and enabling Quadram scientists and hospital doctors to lead the way in health and food science.


Intestinal Microbiota Transfer (IMT)/Faecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT)

Intestinal Microbiota Transfer (IMT) also known as  Faecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT), or more simply  ‘poo transplants’ as they are more commonly known, may sound nauseating to some. Yet this unconventional treatment is a highly effective way of treating recurrent infections of Clostridium difficile and restoring a healthy gut microbiota.

Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, is a bacterium that can infect the gut and cause severe disease.

As many as 1 in 30 of us have C. difficile in our gut.

It is particularly adept at infecting after someone has taken a dose of antibiotics.

The traditional treatment? Another round of antibiotics. Antibiotics kill other bacteria in the gut microbiota, and as a result, the patient will often relapse and become trapped in a cycle of infections. Eventually, antibiotics will stop working altogether.

FMT can break that destructive cycle.

The transplant involves transferring microbiota from healthy donors into patients with C. difficile infection. The patient receives a whole new healthier microbiota, leading to immediate benefits.

Antibiotic treatments work just 30% of the time. Using FMT, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the Quadram Institute achieved a success rate of over 95% in more than 20 patients in its first year.

The potential applications of FMT are limitless. We are currently planning the RESTORE-ME trial that will investigate the application of FMT to treat ME, and a poo transplant could one day be the secret of eternal youth, research shows.

Hear from the Quadram’s Prof Arjan Narbad. Working with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and Dr Ngozi Elumogo, Arjan and his team successfully treated Clostridium difficile infections using faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT).



Have you ever wondered what happens inside our bodies when we eat? Wonder no more!

The PillCam is a nifty piece of technology, the size of a vitamin tablet, that contains a miniature camera. By swallowing a PillCam, you can follow the journey taken by food as it passes through your body.

The procedure is called a capsule endoscopy. The PillCam can take images of the digestive tract’s hard-to-monitor areas, such as the small bowel.

The PillCam recently hit the headlines when 11’000 NHS patients across England received a PillCam to check for cancer.

You can experience the journey of the PillCam for yourselves without having to swallow a single thing. In 2012 Dr Simon Carding consumed a PillCam for an open day at the Institute of Food Research (as we were known then).

Watch a journey through Simon Carding, narrated by Dr Jo Brooks from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.


Gut-on-chip technology

A micro-device, the size of a computer memory stick, enabled Quadram scientists to establish the relationship between HMOs and gut barrier function.

Organ-on-chip technology is microfluidic culture devices lined with living human cells. This novel technology mimics the complexity of native tissues in vitro, offering a potential alternative to animal testing and time-costly clinical trials.

One of the Institute’s key research targets is understanding the role that our resident gut microbial community plays in determining our health. Gut-on-chip models can help scientists simulate the inner workings of the human gut.

Dr Tanja Šuligoj working with gut-on-chips at QIB

In a research collaboration between Prof. Nathalie Juge’s team at the Quadram Institute and industry partners ProDigest, Glycom, and Emulate Inc, organoids derived from colonic biopsies were cultured under conditions that recreated the gut epithelial structure and function.

Using these models, the research team demonstrated that two manufactured HMOs, provided by Glycom, supported healthy gut bacteria growth in the adult microbiota, modulated immune function, and improved gut barrier function.

“HMOs are being used to improve health in infants, as supplements in formula milk, but this work shows the potential application for adults, particularly for those with disorders linked to a ‘leaky’ gut – such as IBS. More research is now needed, particularly in people with the conditions we want to treat, but this study also highlights the potential of the gut-on-chip platform as a physiological model, based on human biopsies, to gain mechanistic insights into gut barrier function.” Prof. Nathalie Juge, QI Group leader.


Model Gut

Meet the Dynamic Gastric Model. The Dynamic Gastric Model (DGM) is the world’s first computer-controlled, mechanical simulator of gastric digestion, and it was developed right here at the Quadram Institute.

Dynamic Gastric Model

The state-of-the-art DGM is based on 15 years of research at the Institute of Food Research (as we were known then) and in partnership with PBL. It works in real-time to process real chewed foods or meals and oral pharmaceutical or nutraceutical products.

How is this useful to scientists? Well, we can get the DGM to do things we just can’t ask humans to do: for instance, we can study the impact of taking drugs with alcohol or how newly-developed infant formulas behave in a baby’s gut. It can even vomit!

The DGM can simulate digestion in humans in vitro and predict how nutrients are released, or show how and where oral drugs are absorbed. The model also reduces the need for animal studies.

Scientists recently used the DGM to uncover the physical structure of the dietary fibre

Researchers from the Quadram Institute and King’s College London carried out a detailed study of how different starch sources are digested when they are part of complex plant tissues. They compared tissues from chickpeas and durum wheat, which represent two different storage starch reserves in their seeds or grains.

The DGM model mimicked the way the stomach uses enzymes to breakdown food and realistically simulated the physical processes that mix and manipulate the food.

As a result, the researchers were confident that changes in starch digestibility seen in these experiments would be of physiological relevance in humans.

“We have shown how a better understanding of fibre structure can help to design fibre-rich food ingredients and products that are likely to be much more effective in helping manage blood glucose, and so maintain health and reduce disease risk such as type 2 diabetes.” Lead author Dr Cathrina Edwards from the Quadram Institute.


Our research targets some of the major challenges that face society, where our bioscience will have significant impact for health across the lifecourse, from when we are born to as we age, as well as ensuring food safety and security, and reduce the burden on healthcare systems. Discover how we’re tackling disease, leading food innovation, supporting healthy ageing, and understanding the microbiome.