How was the microbiome studied?

This project looked for key species of bacteria in the gut that are associated with bowel cancer and identified their molecular and metabolic functions.

The team did this by looking at the genes from bacteria taken from patients with early polyps and cancer.

Bowel cancer develops from polyps that grow in our bowel. Many of us will develop polyps, but not all polyps lead to cancer.
Metabolising is the process that the cells in our bodies go through to nourish, heal and maintain us as living organisms.

The team also measured the metabolic functions of these bacteria to identify new ways that bacteria cause polyp development. The aim was to determine a new test for bowel cancer that includes our microbiome and to define how it could be managed to reduce our risk of bowel cancer.


The project was led by Dr James Kinross, Clinical Lecturer in Surgery, Department of Biosurgery and Surgical Technology, Imperial College.

Why study the microbiome to target bowel cancer?

The project aimed to uncover new mechanisms by which our gut microbiome influences the development of bowel cancer, providing essential insights into its role in maintaining bowel health.

This will help us to gain a deeper understanding of the risk factors for bowel cancer that we already know about, such as obesity and red and processed meat consumption. This will enable us in time to deliver dietary advice that is highly personalised in term of preventing bowel cancer.

The microbiome has also been shown to have a potentially important role in diagnosing and predicting the onset of bowel cancer, as well as affecting how effective current treatments such as chemotherapy are. Understanding it is therefore essential for the development of new personalised, cost effective prevention and treatment options for bowel cancer.

What were the results of the study?

The research team analysed polyp and bowel cancer samples from 127 patients, and found that certain groups of bacteria (called clusters) were associated with risk of cancer recurrence after surgery.

Patients with lots of bacteria in the Cluster Seven group were 40% less likely to have their bowel cancer return. By contrast, patients with an abundance of Cluster One bacteria were 26% more likely to suffer a recurrence of their cancer after surgery.

You can read more about the results in the scientific paper published here: https://microbiomejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40168-023-01518-w

What was the impact of this study?

James Kinross: “While we need further research to validate our findings in larger groups of patients, this study opens up the exciting prospect of being able to offer precision medicine for bowel cancer patients with different gut microbiota. For example, in the future patients with a less favourable tumour microbiome might be treated more aggressively with chemotherapy or monitored more closely after surgery.”

Chief Executive Officer of Bowel Research UK, Lynn Dunne, said: “Medical research is only beginning to understand the influence of the gut microbiome on bowel health but as this study indicates, the profile of the bowel microbiome is thought to have a very strong link to bowel cancer outcomes. We are delighted that our ‘proof of concept’ funding enabled the research team at Imperial College to embark on genuinely pioneering science and as a result of our support was able to secure additional funding to conduct this study.”



In 2016 The Freemasons’ Grand Charity agreed funding of £20,000 to support the project to assist with expensive RNA sequencing, chemical histology and mass spectrometry.

The Hospital Saturday Fund awarded a grant of £2,000 to support this work alongside The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, effectively ensuring that year two of this project is fully funded.