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Press Release: UEA scientist awarded 1.3 million to study beneficial bacteria in early life

Dr Lindsay Hall, a lecturer at the Norwich Medical School at University of East Anglia (UEA) who is also a researcher at the Institute of Food Research (IFR), has received a ‘New Investigator’ award – a highly competitive funding programme which aims to assist researchers in the early stages of their careers.

The sizeable grant will fund a five year research project into infant gut bacterial communities and how these establish within the gut and protect the body from infection.

The study will also examine how antibiotics disturb this microbial community at the earliest stages of our lives, if this increases the risk of infection later in life, and will look for new 'probiotic' bacteria to restore the microbial community and restore the ability to fight infection.

Although the effect of antibiotics on long term health is frequently researched in adults, very few studies have focused on their effects in the early stages of life.

Dr Hall specialises in research into beneficial bacteria. She said: “When we are born our gut is completely free of bacteria. Early life is when the colonisation of the gut by microbes starts but exactly how and why this happens isn’t completely understood yet.

“This grant will help carry out vital investigations into how certain bacteria come to be present in the gut, the long-term results of using antibiotics, and if there is a better solution to treat infectious diseases like bacterial gastroenteritis.”

Bacterial gastroenteritis in young babies is a growing problem in the developed world and an increasing cause of infant death in the developing world. Current treatments involve antibiotics, with more than half of all babies in Europe receiving them in their first year. But antibiotic resistance is a growing problem. Antibiotics also disturb the balance of beneficial bacteria, reducing natural defences against infection.

Lindsay joined UEA as a lecturer in gastrointestinal science in October 2011 and carries out her research at the IFR, which is strategically funded by the BBSRC. She collaborates with researchers at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, also on the Norwich Research Park, which provides an ideal location for the study thanks to the strengths of the partner institutions, renowned for innovative and world-leading studies into healthcare, food and nutrition, medical technology and more.

IFR director Prof David Boxer said: “The microbial communities living inside our guts have huge impacts on our overall health and wellbeing, yet we know comparatively little about them. This study will give us a vital insight into how they are established at a very young age and build on the efforts at the IFR to fully understand how gut microbes influence our health.”

Prof David Richardson, pro-vice-chancellor for research, enterprise and engagement at UEA, said: “Lindsay richly deserves this substantial award which will allow her to work with an expert team on crucial research. We’re delighted her strengths as a researcher in such an important area have been recognised by the Wellcome Trust.”

The Wellcome Trust’s New Investigator Awards are intended to support strong researchers who are in the early stages of their independent research careers and have already shown that they can innovate and drive advances in their field of study.