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New microbiome and breast cancer study


Scientists from the Norwich Research Park are launching a new study to see whether the microbes in our digestive system could be the unlikely heroes in the fight against breast cancer.

The research team from the Quadram Institute, University of East Anglia and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital will focus on the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in each of our digestive systems, known collectively as the microbiome.

A number of studies have indicated that these microbes can actually boost cancer therapies and may also act as a biomarker to screen cancer patients.

Most of the work so far has taken place in cancers of the gut and skin, with much less work focusing on breast cancer. However, this is changing, and the new BEAM Study (Breast hEalth And Microbiota) will be one of the few trials to date exploring the gut microbiome and breast cancer.

Dr Stephen Robinson, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in women in the UK, but if it is diagnosed early, prognosis is good.

“Breast cancer survival rates have improved dramatically over the last 10-20 years largely due to breakthroughs in screening programmes, anti-cancer therapies, and a deeper understanding of how the disease develops. But, more still needs to be done to help save the thousand lives a month that are lost to breast cancer in the UK.

“This is where we hope that our new study will make a difference.”

The research team are recruiting participants who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer to donate their tissue for research, as well as faecal samples to uncover what microbes are present in their gut and which ones might be missing.

The study draws on the cancer biology experience of Dr Stephen Robinson’s research group and the microbiome expertise of Professor Lindsay Hall’s lab as well as the NRP Biorepository, a Norfolk and Norwich University facility that supports high quality clinical research.

Nancy Teng, who is leading the study at Quadram, said: “I am truly fascinated by how a collection of bacteria could have such a big impact on our health.

“Attempting to understand how such bacteria can affect us could provide many opportunities to develop new therapies.

“The chance to contribute to improving patient care is a chance to be a part of a future solution to breast cancer therapies. By learning more about breast cancer and the microbiome, we can provide new ideas for improved treatments and technologies to improve the outcome for patients.”

The study has been reviewed and given favourable opinion by the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences Research Ethics Committee of the University of East Anglia (FMH 201819-092HT).

For more information visit quadram.ac.uk/BEAMStudy or contact the NRP Biorepository at 01603 289221 or biorepository@nnuh.nhs.uk.