11 June 2024

This week, Lynn Dunne will retire from her role as our Chief Executive, handing over to our new CEO, Lindsay Easton. Before she leaves, Lynn has reflected on the past two and half years leading the UK’s top specialist bowel cancer and bowel disease research charity. 

1. What three achievements as CEO do you feel most proud of? 

The charity has had an incredibly exciting and successful few years, so it is a real challenge picking just three highlights!  But first and foremost, I am most proud of the fact that Bowel Research UK is now a thriving, key player in the bowel disease charity arena, that continues to fund life-changing, world-class, early career research. We have reached this point thanks to a great team constantly striving for the best so we can fund more top-quality research.  

I am also delighted that we have renewed and strengthened our unique relationship with the Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland (ACPGBI). This important relationship links us with the UK’s top colorectal surgeons, who help us stay current with the latest research and changes to clinical practice. These same top surgeons are members of our Scientific Advisory and Research & Grants Committees and help us to choose the best scientific direction for Bowel Research UK as well as the best research proposals to fund by tapping into their expertise.  The relationship had been affected post-merger in 2020 (when Bowel Research UK was formed with the coming together of the Bowel Disease Research Foundation & Bowel & Cancer Research charities) due to the pandemic, but we now communicate closely and work together brilliantly.  

Finally, I am immensely proud of the Bowel Research UK Microbiome Garden at Chelsea Flower Show and our £250,000 appeal for funding a themed research call into the human gut microbiome in 2024/25. Once I had heard about the possibility of applying for sponsorship of a garden for the charity, I was convinced this would be the most fantastic opportunity for us and that, if the bid were successful, it had to tell the story about the link between the soil, plants and the human gut microbiome. This all started in 2022, so we were incredibly fortunate with our timing and that the gut microbiome has become as popular as it now is – serendipity and a fantastic legacy to leave with the team! The garden has also brought together so many of our fantastic supporters, who have loved watching the journey to Chelsea and helped spread the word about the microbiome – I would like to thank everyone who has supported this exciting initiative.  

2. What have you enjoyed the most about the role?  

I have enjoyed leading the charity through a period of difficult change, and seeing it emerge as a successful organisation. I enjoyed creating a vision for the charity and, despite having to make difficult decisions along the way, it has been very satisfying to see those plans come to fruition.  

3. What has been your biggest challenge? What inspired you to keep going during that time? 

My biggest challenge was updating the systems and structures within the charity, which took a lot of careful planning and some tough decisions. But this has led to a strong team with structures that will enable us to achieve our mission. I am pleased to be leaving the charity full of confidence and believe that the team and Lindsay as the new CEO will deliver great things to grow the charity further and have a positive impact on patients with bowel cancer and bowel diseases.  

What inspired me to keep going was the knowledge that, as a stage 3 bowel cancer survivor, without doubt I would not have survived my diagnosis had it not been for the research that has been done in the past 20+ years, that has improved bowel surgery, stoma care and chemotherapy. So, I see the work of Bowel Research UK and my role within it as being one of “paying forward,” so that treatments get better and better and hopefully one day there will be cures for many more bowel diseases. 

4. How has the bowel research landscape changed since you joined the charity? 

I think one of the most notable and alarming changes has been the rapid rise in the numbers of bowel cancer cases in younger people and we are not sure why at the moment. Whilst it is true to say that the causes are multifactorial, I believe that research into the human gut microbiome will be key not only for understanding how to prevent and treat bowel cancer, but also inflammatory bowel disease(s) too. 

5. What excites you most about Bowel Research UK’s research?  

There are so many things to be excited about in a charity like Bowel Research UK that funds many incredible world class research projects! I am going to avoid singling out individual research projects because it would be an exceedingly long list and instead give you some other exciting highlights about Bowel Research UK funded research: 

Impact: For every £1 that Bowel Research UK invests in early career, proof of principle and PhD research, that research goes on to attract a further £3* in ongoing research. This is positive proof that we truly are funding world class research and is arguably one of the best measures of success for an early career research charity. *the figure is currently at £1 : £3.44 and rising!

We are about to launch a joint research app with ACPGBI, which will make all the current UK colorectal research available to the colorectal community; healthcare professionals and patients alike. It will also make it much easier for interested patients to “Take PaRT” in Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) activities through the Bowel Research UK Patients and Researchers Together (PaRT) network. 

The charity is also co-funding a Priority Setting Partnership into diverticular disease with Guts UK through the James Lind Alliance. This allows patients affected by diverticular disease to work with clinician researchers to ensure that the patient voice is heard when deciding the research priorities for diverticular disease. Signing up to this PSP, honours our commitment to the AMRC (Association of Medical Research Charities) guidance to involve the patient voice in all aspects of medical research.

6. What is your parting message for Bowel Research UK’s supporters, scientists and team? 

The need for world class, evidence-based, research into bowel cancer and all bowel diseases has never been greater and our ability to fund this important work is only limited by available funds. So please keep raising money, having incredible research ideas and working with the fantastic Bowel Research UK team to ensure that as much early career research as possible is funded. Because who knows which of these applications might lead to the gold-standard treatment, the route to prevention or a future Nobel Prize!