Quadram Institute’s new science strategy offers innovation in food and health research

19th June 2018

The Quadram Institute (QI) has launched its £40M new science strategy, positioning it at the forefront of research-based organisations delivering innovative solutions to global challenges in food-related disease and human health.

Through its new science strategy, the QI is assembling the scientific expertise needed to understand the complex challenges facing today’s society. QI’s research will enable a better understanding of how food influences health, and how we can combat obesity and other diet-related conditions.  It will also capitalise on the explosion of knowledge of the importance of the microbiome, the population of bacteria that lives in our gut, and develop ways of manipulating these microbial communities to benefit health. The QI’s expertise and high-tech infrastructure will allow it to use state-of-the-art DNA sequencing approaches and bioinformatics to study microbial communities. The analysis of these communities will help us maintain a safe food supply and combat the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

The QI’s science strategy was launched at a reception at the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday 19th June, hosted by George Freeman MP.

QI Director Professor Ian Charles said, “The Quadram Institute’s major new programmes of research will drive food innovation, will pioneer new discoveries in the rapidly emerging field of the microbiome, and give us a greater understanding of the micro-organisms in the food chain. Through its four core interlinking, highly collaborative research programmes research at QI will make a major contribution to improvements in human health and wellbeing.

“Our aim is to improve “health-span” so that our population can remain healthy and independent well into old age. It delivers to the government’s Industrial Strategy commitments to improve healthy ageing, and will contribute to reducing the burden of an ageing population on the NHS and social care.”

QI is an exciting and innovative partnership between world-class academic research and clinical excellence that will create a step-change in integrated food and health research. The partners in QI are:  Quadram Institute Bioscience (which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, BBSRC); the University of East Anglia (UEA); and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (NNUH). It will move into its new state-of-the-art building later this year.  The QI building has been designed to enable scientists to work alongside clinicians to undertake research that will accelerate the adoption of innovation to benefit patients and population health. It will accommodate 300 scientists as well as a new Clinical Research Facility and one of Europe’s largest endoscopy units. QI capitalises on the unique cluster of bioscience expertise on the Norwich Research Park, which is home to 3,000 scientists in six leading organisations and 80 businesses.

In May 2018, Science Minister Sam Gyimah announced the four-year £40M investment in QI research funded through the BBSRC, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). QI will seek to build on this core funding through further grant-funded research programmes, collaborations and industrial partnerships. QI’s goals are to ensure that its research leads to the development of new foods, therapies and life-style advice that will enhance the health of the population and reduce the costs to society from disease both in the UK and internationally.


Notes to editors:

About the QI Science Strategy:

The Food Innovation and Health research theme aims to support efforts to bring about a major dietary shift to improve public health by understanding precisely how diverse foods influence health. Researchers will uncover how food and metabolites derived from food and its interactions with the gut microbiota affect the regulation of metabolic processes in the body. The structure of food affects how it is digested; researchers will also study how this relates to hormone signalling and metabolic flux and their impacts on health. This will support the development of new foods made using processes that enhance, health benefits, or made from crops specifically developed to provide benefits to metabolic health. Other findings from this research will support better dietary advice that exploits an improved knowledge of the interactions between food and the gut microbiome, or brings in elements of personalised nutrition based on your genome, background or microbiome.

The Food Databanks National Capability provides information of food composition that informs food innovation research, the food industry and policy makers in the UK and globally. Food composition data and the value added by our expertise in this area are essential for high quality research into the links between food and health.

The Gut Microbes and Health research area builds on the emerging understanding that the collection of trillions of microbes known as the microbiome is critical for development and maintenance of host health throughout life. Disturbances in the microbiome have been linked to a number of conditions including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), allergies, obesity, dementia and other complex, systemic diseases. This research will define the role of the microbiome in the early stages of life as well as during old age. Two new studies will assess the links between the microbiome and health during pregnancy and early life, and also in the ageing gut and how this affects cognition. The ultimate aim is to develop therapies that alter the composition of the microbiome to benefit health. This may be through probiotics, modified bacteria, dietary changes or total transplants of the microbiome e.g. faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT).

The Microbes in the Food Chain research programme studies bacteria in the food chain and how they affect human health. The research aims to reduce illnesses caused by foodborne bacteria. It will also contribute to the global efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by understanding how resistance emerges in microbial populations. The programme combines microbiological studies to understand the strategies bacteria adopt to survive in the real-world alongside the latest DNA sequencing, genomic and bioinformatics techniques. This approach allows us to track the emergence, spread and evolution of pathogens in the food chain. Aspects of the programme interact with the gut microbes research at QI to understand how pathogenic bacteria interact with our microbiome. This combination of human, environmental and animal microbial studies reflects the One Health agenda and recognizes the intrinsic interactions between various microbial populations. This will lead to identifying novel bacterial targets that can be used in interventions to reduce infection and contamination.

Population Health research at the QI will use research from the other three themes to help enhance the overall health of the population. Technological advances have seen the costs and ease of genome sequencing and associated approaches reduce to such an extent that they can be applied at the population level. Our aim is to bring ‘omics techniques and Big Data approaches to population health. We will work with the stable, ageing population in Norfolk to carry out longitudinal studies of gut health. These studies will combine extensive health records with clinical information with new genome, microbiome and metabolomic data to help understand the development of chronic disease over the patient lifetime. This will need a new approach to align Big Data and health records, which QI will pioneer.  The rewards are potentially great, we will be better able to determine how the genome and microbiome predict the future health of an individual, and recommend personalized therapies to extend healthy life as well as inform global health policies.

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