Category: Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction

There’s a whole world inside of you: a guide to microbiome research

Kate Gallagher provides an insight into microbiome research; a promising area of science that may pave the way for new treatments for a number of conditions ranging from inflammatory bowel disease to cancer.


You may be familiar with the age-old phrase, ‘you are what you eat’. Whilst I can assure readers that despite ingesting an inordinate amount of Reese’s pieces, you probably aren’t nuts, recent developments in research into the gut microbiome are beginning to tell us that the population of microbes inhabiting our gut may be much more powerful than we’ve previously given them credit for.

What is the microbiome?

The term microbiome refers to the additional set of genes arising from the diverse and unique array of microbes that have established themselves in a variety of habitats throughout our body. This is not to be confused with the term microbiota, simply referring to their names and quantities. These communities of bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeasts can be found in significant proportions in regions such as the gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts, your oral cavity, and skin. Overall, bacterial cells in our body match the number of human cells at a 1:1 ratio, meaning the microbiome has a significant contribution towards our genetic diversity, harnessing great potential to aid our understanding of a number of medical conditions targeted by decades of research. (more…)

Is mycoprotein an ideal food for managing blood sugar levels in Type 2 Diabetes?

For Diabetes Awareness Week, Anna Cherta-Murillo explains how mycoprotein, a food made of fungus, may hold the promise for managing blood sugar levels in Type 2 Diabetes.


If I were to ask you the first thing that comes to mind when you think of fungi, you would probably say mouldy walls, gone-off food, or athlete’s foot. The Fungi kingdom is often not viewed in a positive light. However, we owe a lot to fungi; they produce life-saving antibiotics, have allowed organ transplantations in humans and can recycle many types of waste. In the area of nutrition, some fungi also have the potential to affect human health in a beneficial way, although little research has been devoted to it compared to other foods. In the Nutrition Section of the Department of Medicine at Imperial, we are putting fungi into the limelight and studying the impact of a particular type of fungus on blood sugar levels and appetite in South Asian and European people with Type 2 Diabetes (T2D).

The problem

1 out of 20 people worldwide has T2D, with South Asians being more prone to the disease compared to Europeans (Figure 1). People with T2D have higher blood sugar levels than normal, which over time can increase the chances of developing long-term complications such as blindness, kidney disease and heart failure. It is therefore important to manage blood sugar levels in people with T2D in order to keep blood sugar in the normal range. The first-line strategy to achieve this is by improving dietary intake. Healthy, balanced diets are generally characterised as being high in dietary fibre and protein, which decrease both blood sugar levels and appetite. If blood sugar levels are reduced toward normal levels, the chances of having T2D-related complications are reduced. Likewise, if appetite is decreased, intake of energy-rich foods will likely also decrease, helping to reduce body weight, which is a key risk factor for T2D. However, an ongoing problem with healthy diets is that they are not suitable for all cultures and most of the research around them has been conducted in people of European origin, therefore not being applicable to South Asians. Furthermore, people often find it difficult to stick to these diets. (more…)

Think small: solving the global challenge of malnutrition by looking at metabolites

Dr Jonathan Swann’s research looks at thousands of small molecules called metabolites in an attempt to better understand a bigger problem of malnutrition and infection – a vicious combination.


Around the world, chronic undernutrition burdens the lives of over 150 million children. The effects of early life undernutrition can extend beyond infancy, stunting the physical and cognitive development of children. This stunting can often have wider societal effects including a decrease in the productivity and economic output of a community, restricting its overall progress. To make matters worse, chronic undernutrition is closely associated with repeated and persistent infections.

Such infections are common in resource-constrained settings due to inadequate water supplies and lack of access to basic healthcare. This double burden of malnutrition and infections can combine to drive inflammatory processes in the gut leading to malabsorption of nutrients and impaired immune responses, further exacerbating the malnourished state and persistence of infections. Breaking this cycle of undernutrition, infections and poverty represents a significant challenge.

(more…)

Why I’m running a marathon for dementia research

Dr Luke Whiley, a researcher at Imperial’s UK Dementia Research Institute, is taking on this year’s London Marathon, all in aid of Dementia Revolution.


To coincide with the launch of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI), the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK have partnered with the Virgin London Marathon to create the Dementia Revolution – a year-long campaign to raise awareness of dementia and the ongoing research that is happening throughout the UK. As a research associate based at the Imperial UK DRI, I will be running the marathon as a representative of the centre and its research.

I have always been a keen runner, but have never completed a marathon. When the opportunity arose to promote the exciting work happening throughout the DRI and to be a part of the Dementia Revolution at the iconic London marathon, I was very eager to get involved. The experience has been very important for me, as I have met many other Dementia Revolution runners at both outreach and training events, and talking to them, hearing their story of how dementia has affected them personally, has further emphasised the importance of the research that I am doing within the UK DRI. (more…)

Why legumes may be the key in the fight against undernutrition

Dr Aaron Lett and Professor Gary Frost explain how Imperial is leading initiatives to address undernutrition in low-middle income countries.


Undernutrition is still a big problem in 2019.

Of the 5.6 million child deaths which occur globally, it is estimated 45% of them can be attributed to undernutrition. The majority of undernutrition occurs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and manifests as stunting, wasting, and underweight.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that today, 155 million children under five years are stunted, 52 million children are wasted, and 17 million are severely wasted. In addition to the negative health impact, undernutrition has significant economic and social implications on these LMICs. Despite current treatments that aim to reverse the nutritional status of individuals with undernutrition, there is still significant morbidity and mortality. (more…)

It takes guts to fight obesity: how hormones could hold the key to sustainable weight loss

To mark National Obesity Awareness Week, Professor Tricia Tan explains how new research is harnessing the power of hormones to treat obesity more effectively.


Obesity has been an issue for centuries. However, it has transformed from a disease that once only touched a small number of people to a major health concern that currently affects one in four adults in the UK. As a result, obesity is now always in the news. Although many obese people are reasonably healthy, we know that obesity increases the risks of developing heart disease, diabetes mellitus (high blood sugar), cancer, respiratory problems (such as sleep apnoea and asthma) and arthritis. Obesity and its related health problems threaten to reverse the gains in lifespan that we have seen through the 20th century. So, how can we begin to tackle it? (more…)

Going with our guts to find new treatments: faecal microbiota transplantation at Imperial

Dr Ben Mullish and Dr Julie McDonald explore the ins and outs of faecal microbiota transplants – it may sound unpleasant but this procedure is proving to be an effective way of treating chronic gut infections.


Most of us can name (or may have had first-hand experience of) a number of different bacteria that can cause serious gut infections, such as Salmonella or Campylobacter.  However, what is less well-known is that we also have billions of bacteria living in our guts that normally do us no harm at all.  Some actually have important contributions towards our health – including prevention of bacterial pathogens entering our gut and causing infections.  Collectively, this huge population of microorganisms living inside our digestive tracts is often referred to as the ‘gut microbiota’.  If anything happens to us that disturbs or kills off members of this gut microbiota – such as exposure to antibiotics, or surgery – then we have greater vulnerability to gut infections, and particularly from a form of bacteria called Clostridium difficile. (more…)

Making the leap from PhD to postdoc

Following the annual Rising Scientist Day, Drs Myrsini Kaforou, Alex Thompson and Claire Byrne recount their experiences of becoming fully-fledged early career researchers and share their best advice for prospective postdocs.


The annual Rising Scientist Day at Imperial’s Hammersmith Campus offers PhD students the chance to share their research both with their peers, and a more general audience. In addition to poster presentations and networking opportunities, the showcase featured talks from those who had successfully made the transition from PhD to postdoc. (more…)

How machine learning will transform the way we look at medical images

Machine learning

Dr Tim Hoogenboom, a Research Sonographer, looks at the promise and perils of machine learning in medical imaging.

Medical imaging is key in today’s delivery of modern healthcare, with an immense 41 million imaging tests taking place in England in every year. Thousands upon thousands of patients safely undergo imaging procedures such as X-ray, ultrasound, and MRI every day, and the product of these tests – the images – play an essential role in informing the decisions of medical professionals and patients in nearly every area of disease. (more…)

Festive feasting: the good, the bad and the microbiome

Microbiome

In this festive post, Dr Anjali Amin looks at how to keep our gut microbiome happy over this period of indulgence.

As the festive season approaches, one wonders how our bodies prepare for the enormity of food that will be ingested in a relatively short space of time.  In the UK alone, the average person consumes 7000 calories on Christmas Day alone.  This is three times the recommended calorie intake per day, and most of us will have reached the recommended calorie intake before Christmas lunch has even been served. And of course, it’s not just about eating more. We are also a great deal more sedentary, with the average person in the UK spending 5.5 hours a day in front of the television over the Christmas period desperately awaiting reruns of Blackadder and yet another Christmas special! (more…)