Science Series: Dr Lindsay Hall talks about Big C funded research into cancer happening in Norfolk

Dr Lindsay Hall says: “For many years, we have known that what we eat affects the risk of getting breast cancer later in life. However, in recent years there is also some evidence that the bacteria which naturally live in our gut can also have an impact on surviving breast cancer.”

Microbiome Research Leader at the Quadram Institute, Dr Lindsay Hall.
It’s important to get people excited about the fact we do world class research in Norwich,

Big C have funded a research project at Norwich Research Park starting in January, to look further into this area. The project is led by Microbiome Research Leader at the Quadram Institute, Dr Lindsay Hall alongside Dr Stephen Robinson, Senior Lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences, at the University of East Anglia (UEA), and recently appointed Research Leader at Quadram Institude (QI)

The project is an exciting collaboration between cancer biologists, microbiologists and immunologists. Within the field of microbiota research, it’s this kind of multidisciplinary research that brings the big changes.

We sat down with Lindsay to learn more: “The premise of this study is to actually understand how our resident gut bacterial communities, what we call the microbiota, potentially play a role in cancer and cancer progression.

“We now understand that these gut microbes are really important for our health and our wellbeing and one of the key roles they play is that they are really important for programming our immune system.

“So, you can understand why these microbes might be important in the context of cancer and harnessing our immunity to fight off cancer and to produce anti-cancer reponses.

“The study will look at a group of breast cancer patients, to see if their gut microbes potentially look different or altered compared to those of a similar age that don’t have cancer. We want to understand if there are differences in these microbial communities and if this could potentially be linked to differences in anti-cancer immune responses and, in turn potentially link back to cancer outcomes.

This has previously been looked at for other cancers but far less research has been done in the context of breast cancer.

Lindsay says: “There’s really not been much done on this at all, which is why it’s fantastic Big C are funding this, so we can really drive it forward and I hope it’s going to be really big. As far as we know, there’s small scale studies looking at how the microbiota might be changed in breast cancer patients, but we will be using cutting edge technologies that are available on Norwich Research Park, and will get a really clear idea of what changes might be observed in cancer patients vs the healthy controls and how this influences anti-cancer responses.

“It’s a relatively short project so we aren’t going to be able to do everything but it will give us the first kind of ideas about how microbiota changes correlate with breast cancer, and our ultimate goal is to hopefully develop new therapies.”

Big C has also contributed funding to the Quadram Institute – a brand new, multidisciplinary institute – at Norwich Research Park. Lindsay says: “This study is definitely of global importance, and the wider field of microbiota research is and will continue to revolutionise healthcare.

“The Quadram Institute will be at the interface of gut microbes, food and health, which means we really are going to be one of the global players in this area.

“One of the important parts of research in Norwich is the translational aspect, for example, there is a clinical trials unit in the Quadram Institute, so taking our ultimate goal of developing new therapies for cancer patients, depending on the project’s findings we could test potential therapies in a cohort of Norfolk-based patients.

“Not only does that contribute to the research, but it means that people that live in Norfolk get the therapy first which is made possible because the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) is located within the Norwich Research Park”

“Big C is a local charity and I think it’s really important that it funds local research. It’s important to get people excited about the fact we do world class research in Norwich, and that the money donated and raised by those that live in Norfolk goes directly towards what’s happening.

“This funding is the first stepping stone to get this project up and running, but obviously we have big plans that include the development of potential new therapies and the funding from Big C allows us to see if we can move along this path. Big C plays a really important role, and I want everyone in Norfolk to realise we have this unbelievable research environment here on our doorstep and we should all be really proud of it.”

Meet Lindsay and the team at Norwich Science Festival from the 16-27 October (Half Term) at The Forum in Norwich. They have a giant walk-through gut!