Blog Back to Blog



Big C visit the UEA labs.

Big C were invited to bring staff and volunteers along to UEA to take a tour of the labs to find out first-hand about some of the projects Big C scientists are working on and see equipment that donations have paid for. The tour was led by Professor Colin Cooper, a Big C funded researcher at the forefront of cancer genetics research. Before the tour began, a presentation was given, explaining Professor Cooper’s previous and current research, and his journey to UEA.

Before we begin: a presentation explaining some of the research being done
Professor Cooper came to UEA because it is the fourth most cited research facility in the UK and houses the John Innes Centre and the Institute of Food Research, vital links for development of cancer treatment where the roles of genes and diet can be analysed. However, Professor Cooper feels that cancer research in Norwich is still an area that needs building up, stating “Some of the best scientists work here, but just not on cancer at the moment”. His current area of research is prostate cancer, though he has previously been involved in the discovery of genes influencing human sarcomas, testicular, bladder, and kidney cancer. The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is the only hospital in the country with a genome centre next door, a centre that analyses the link between genes and cancer, making it ideal for collecting samples to be used in research.

Norwich Research Park (NRP) is the perfect location for cancer research as the hospital is close to the University, the John Innes Centre and the Institute of Food Research, and soon the Norwich Medical Research Building. This £19million building is to become a hub for cancer research, and other age-related diseases, and will lead the way in translational research. Fundamentally, this means that biopsies can be taken from patients in the hospital, analysed by researchers at the NRP, meaning the results of these real life clinical cases can be applied in a science environment. Crucial to this is a recent development from UEA researcher Dr Mark Williams, which allows cancer cells to continue to self-replicate, even when outside of the human body, allowing a better understanding of how the cells behave internally.

After receiving a $1million investment from The Prostate Cancer Foundation, Professor Cooper has teamed up with Professor Richard Mithen to study the protective effects of broccoli consumption against prostate cancer. Professor Mithen has been studying a naturally-occurring compound in broccoli called glucoraphanin, and was a leading researcher in the development of super broccoli. Together, they are studying how a broccoli-rich diet in high glucoraphanin and a subsequent compound called sulforaphane, may prevent tumour growth in localised prostate cancer. In healthy individuals, the prostate accumulates zinc, and will have the highest zinc levels of any soft tissue in the body but in cancer patients, this level drops significantly. Sulforaphane has been noted to counter a specific type of DNA damage by turning on Tumour Suppressor Genes and preventing uncontrolled cell replication. Therefore this joint research will be looking into the effect of how a diet rich in super-broccoli could prevent tumour growth in localised tumour growth.

As thousands of patients are diagnosed at the NNUH each year much of this, and subsequent, research will take place in the new Medical Research Building. Big C have funded research into cancer at a genetic level for 15 years and have helped fund both the building and some of the researchers to continue the progress experienced so far.

Big C funded laboratory in the School of Biological Sciences at UEA.

Looking around the labs, there are machines funded by Big C, worth up to £250,000,that are revolutionary in the field. The tour explains the research being carried out and shows how, if it is successful, this could affect future research. Big C Volunteer Helen felt:

“As a volunteer and fundraiser it’s always good to see where my money is going, and it’s fascinating to meet the scientists and be given an insight into what they do.  I was worried about being overwhelmed with technical language but everything was explained on a level we could understand”.

If you are interested in joining one of our lab tours, contact Diane at Head Office on 01603 619900 or email  Places are limited, so you may need to book ahead.

You can also find more information about some of the research projects we have funded in the research section of our website.
Back to Blog


Post a comment

Please note:
All comments are subject to moderation by the blog author.