The Quadram Institute Bioscience, which launched at the end of April last year, is on schedule to open a new £75m state-of-the-art building around October time.
The new facility will be at the heart of a plant-microbes-food-health science cluster at the Norwich Research Park, which is home to 3,000 scientists, a large teaching hospital, a UK top-15 university and 62 businesses on a single campus.
Three hundred research-related staff and 100 clinical personnel will work across four interrelated interdisciplinary research themes. Beds will be located next to laboratories to accelerate innovation. Under the microscope will be healthy ageing, chronic conditions and how to keep people out of hospital by understanding the impact food – and the microbes that live in us (the microbiome) and our food chain – have on health.
Professor Ian Charles, director, says scientists will work with volunteers, collecting tissue, faecal, urine and blood samples for the on-site bio-repository and running human intervention studies in the clinical research facility.
But this information isn't just being gathered for scientific purposes. The institute staff regularly meet with the food industry to discuss their research. The hope is that the new discoveries and development of novel technologies in food and health will allow manufacturers to create products that better cater to consumer desires for personalised food, optimising individual microbiomes for better overall wellness.
Working with industry
The Quandrum Institute hopes to cooperate with industry to provide consumers with healthy foods, translating its science into practical solutions.
“We are always looking to work with commercial partners from either the food, pharma or biotech industries,” says Professor Charles. “One way that the food industry could access academic research is by combining resources to facilitate non-competitive research, and there are often grants available to help support such initiatives.”
He reveals that the institute is in contact with “all the major companies” across different sectors of the food industry, sharing its knowledge.
Food companies also fund research to look at specific issues, from food safety and development of innovative foods to influencing the microbiome.
The four focus areas
1. Microbes in the food chain
This seeks to understand how microbes evolve, spread, survive and compete in the food chain leading to the development of novel interventions to reduce the risk of illness and the spread of antimicrobial resistance.
2. Gut microbes and health
Developing food and microbe-based interventional strategies to promote and restore health from birth to old age.
3. Food innovation and health
To increase knowledge of the impact of food on the microbiome while developing innovative foods to promote health and reduce the impact of age and diet-related disease
4. Population health
Understanding the impact of demographics, differences in the microbiome, genetic diversity and lifestyle on health – working with Norfolk’s stable population.
Health is affected by many different factors, from environment, genetics, microbiome and lifestyle, Professor Charles explains, which all need further research.
“Ultimately, we hope our science will lead to diet and treatment programmes for the individual.”
He says the Quadram Institute has invested in high-performance computing and, importantly, has bioinformatics expertise to make use of big data.
“In the medium term, we can see us being able to deliver diet and treatment programmes suitable for different groups of people that may have similar genetic profiles, microbiomes and environmental factors.”
Sexing it up
Joe Public will not find the subject of microbes particularly stimulating, so how can it be popularised? “This is a pioneering area of research,” says Professor Charles, “and there is more and more information about the potential significance of the microbiome becoming available.”
As we know more about how the microbiome is established, the impact of different foods and bioactive ingredients on the microbiome and how health can be influenced, the more coverage the topic will get, he believes.
“The Quadram Institute is here to further our knowledge based upon academic excellence and clinical expertise to provide understanding and evidence to accelerate innovation.”