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The Babraham Institute

The Babraham Institute undertakes innovative, world-leading life sciences research to generate new knowledge of the biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health and wellbeing.

Babraham Institute

The Babraham Institute supports BBSRC's mission to drive advances in fundamental bioscience. By understanding how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, the Institute aims to support the development of new drugs and treatments that can contribute to healthier ageing and benefit industrial wealth creation in the UK.


Discovery biology – for lifelong health

Answering the biggest questions facing biology in the twenty first century requires precise examination of the building blocks of life – cells – and the DNA that builds them and drives their cellular machinery so that homeostasis, or a balanced chemistry, is maintained in the face of environmental challenges. The Babraham Institute's central research themes that address the fundamental biological questions of cellular regulation are:

  • Cell signalling: how cells respond to cues from their external environment
  • Immunology: the processes controlling the development of the immune system during ageing, the onset of frailty and when exposed to infection
  • Epigenetics: how the activity of DNA, genes, or the whole genome, is regulated without change to the DNA sequence as an organism grows and develops

Understanding epigenetics is one of Babraham's major programmes and the Institute is a Europe-wide leader in this area. Epigenetics governs how environmental factors such as nutrition and exposure to chemicals and toxins affect how our DNA works. At the same time, our genetic makeup affects how we react to certain foods and pollutants. Defining how cellular communications, from conception throughout the ageing process, can lead to long-term epigenetic changes is one of the major challenges in twenty-first century biology.

Babraham uses state-of-the-art microscopy to watch calcium signals in action in healthy and diseased cells, such as this cardiac cell. Image: BI
Babraham uses state-of-the-art microscopy to watch calcium signals in action in healthy and diseased cells, such as this cardiac cell. Copyright: BI

The Babraham Institute carries out pioneering work investigating the principles of epigenetic gene regulation in early development, particularly in germ cells, stem cells and early lineage decisions which is revealing the biological mechanisms underlying physiological and homeostatic control during development. Environmental factors such as food intake and infection can leave an epigenetic memory that will influence not only our present health and wellbeing, but also that of our future offspring in ways we are only just beginning to grasp. Therefore, understanding the core biological principles behind epigenetics could improve our wellbeing for generations to come.

Research exploring the mechanisms behind inappropriate immune activation, which can cause chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases or allergies, is providing insight into how the body copes with both pathogens and dietary insufficiencies. Dietary-derived compounds, particularly from leafy vegetables, contribute directly to a healthy intestinal immune system, thereby enabling the body to control the number of 'beneficial' bacteria in the gut and reducing injuries to the intestine; diets low in fruit and vegetables are one risk factor linked to intestinal bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn's disease. Furthermore, knowledge of how foods interact with the body has direct relevance to food security in providing a sustainable supply of nutritious and safe food.

Purkinje neurons in a slice of brain cerebellum. Colours represent different depths at which the neurons reside within the slice. Image: BI
Purkinje neurons in a slice of brain cerebellum. Colours represent different depths at which the neurons reside within the slice. Copyright: BI

Babraham also has a strong history of discovery in cell signalling research. Leading international groups are studying intracellular signalling pathways to elucidate the mechanism of many important enzymes that are involved in cell growth, differentiation and the development of certain cancers, such as phosphoinositide 3-kinases (PI3Ks), small GTPases and MAP kinases respectively. These key proteins often represent targets for therapeutic intervention, thereby integrating basic and translational research.

The fundamental principles underlying the control of genome function is being studied through systems biology approaches at Babraham, integrating high-throughput 'omics' technologies with our expanding capacity for mathematical and biophysical modelling and simulation. Babraham's research is recognised as internationally competitive and maintains unique research facilities of national importance. Recent BBSRC investments include a £1.6M next-generation sequencing facility, a £1.5M mass spectrometry suite with special application for lipidomics' analysis, £23M world-class rodent animal facilities, in addition to bioinformatics, FACS analysis, bioimaging, gene targeting and monoclonal antibody production expertise.

Knowledge exchange for wealth creation

The Institute is committed to knowledge exchange and facilitates academic-commercial links to drive innovation and wealth creation for the UK economy. Babraham Bioscience Technologies Ltd (BBT), the Institute's wholly-owned trading arm, promotes knowledge exchange and commercial translation of the Institute's research. BBT actively manages the Institute's intellectual property, negotiates commercial research partnerships and has established spin-out companies. One such example is Crescendo Biologics, established in 2008, which brings together in vivo and in vitro technology platforms invented by Babraham scientists.

3D reconstruction of a blastocyst (early stage embryo) with one cell highlighted for analysis. Image: BI
3D reconstruction of a blastocyst (early stage embryo) with one cell highlighted for analysis. Copyright: BI

Translation of the Institute's epigenetics research has resulted in several patent applications and commercialisation has been achieved through licensing to companies, including an ongoing relationship with CellCentric Ltd. The Institute's research has also generated novel antibodies, cell lines and other reagents available for licensing.

The Babraham Research Campus is a leading centre for bioscience innovation in the UK and provides around 70,000 sq ft lab space to 28 small-to-medium sized enterprises in the heart of the Cambridge biomedical cluster. The Bioincubator, managed by BBT and supported with BBSRC funding, has been hosting these early-stage bioventures since 2001 and a significant number of the companies on site are closely integrated with the Institute, working with scientists or using Institute services and facilities such as the Technology Development Lab.

The campus continues to expand, underscoring both BBSRC's and Babraham's commitment to supporting bioscience innovation. There are around 750 people on the Babraham Research Campus; approximately 400 people work at the Institute, and around 350 people are employed by various companies on site; an international and professional diversity that has generated a vibrant, stimulating and rewarding research environment.