Dr Naomi Willis
Research Associate

  • Email: naomi.willis@ncl.ac.uk
  • Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 1141
  • Address: Human Nutrition Research Centre
    Institute of Cellular Medicine
    Newcastle University
    Biomedical Research Building
    Campus for Ageing and Vitality
    Newcastle-upon-Tyne
    NE4 5PL
    UK

Overview

Naomi works at the Human Nutrition Research Centre and Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University. She is currently involved in two non-clinical trials on carbohydrates and gut health and using metabolomics to assess dietary intake.

The MAIN study, funded by the Medical Research Council, aims 1) to discover small molecules (metabolites) in urine and blood which reflect habitual consumption of specific foods or food groups important for public health and 2) to validate an efficient population urine sampling procedure suitable for epidemiological studies. This project is a collaboration between Newcastle University, Aberystwyth University and Imperial College London.

She is also part of The DISC study, funded by the Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC) initiative led by the BBSRC, which aims to investigate the impact of non-digestible carbohydrates on biomarkers of gastrointestinal health. This project is a collaboration between Newcastle University and the Institute of Food Research, Norwich.  

Naomi gained her PhD from the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University investigating the role of nuclear lamina proteins in the development and progression of colorectal cancer. As part of her project, she spent time working at Maastricht University, The Netherlands.

Public engagement

Delivered "Discover DNA" workshops at the British Science Festival, 2013 and the Bang Goes the Borders Science Festival, Scotland, 2012 and 2013 to engage all ages in molecular biology. 

Memberships

  • Associate Fellow of the Graduate School, Newcastle University
  • Newcastle University Institute for Ageing

  • Infrastructure and Operations Committee, Campus for Ageing and Vitality, Newcastle University






Research interests

Metabolomics

  • Biomarkers of dietary exposure

  • Methodology

Diet and Cancer

  • Prevention and early detection of colorectal cancer

  • Diet-responsive biomarkers of gut health

  • Biomarkers of colorectal cancer risk and colonic stem cells

  • Effect of carbohydrates on gut physiology

Nutritional and Physical Activity Epidemiology

  • Patterns of dietary intake, physical activity and sedentary behaviour and their relationship with cardiovascular health, type 2 diabetes (T2D) and obesity

  • Gene x environment interactions and risk of cardiovascular disease, T2D and obesity

Current Research Projects

  • Identification of metabolomic biomarkers to assess dietary exposure in free-living adults.                  Funded by: MRC

  • Impact of non-digestible carbohydrates of biomarkers of gastrointestinal health: a human intervention study.
    Funded by: BBSRC

Skills:

  • Management of non-cTIMP human intervention studies

  • Cell biology (cell culture & transfection; whole crypt microdissection and crypt cell kinetics; preparation, preservation and archiving of biological samples; immunohistochemistry; immunofluorescence; confocal microscopy; live cell imaging; scratch wound assays; flow cytometry; micronucleus assay)

  • Molecular biology (RNA isolation; RT-PCR; RNAi; DNA extraction & purification; PCR primer design; DNA microarray analysis; ELISA; western blotting)

  • Genetics / epigenetics (SNP genotyping; pyrosequencing)

Student supervision

  • 1 x MPhil student - gene x environment interactions, type 2 diabetes (T2D) and obesity in Amerindian populations (GENADIO study) (Newcastle University, 2014-present)
  • 3 x MRes students - zinc transporter methylation in colorectal cancer (CRC); GADD45A expression in response to non-digestible carbohydrate (NDC) intake; gene x environment interactions and T2D, the GENADIO study (Newcastle University, 2012-2014)
  • 1 x BSc Biomedical Sciences student - dietary compliance in a human intervention study (Newcastle University, 2014)
  • 4 x BSc Food and Human Nutrition students - dietary intake, appetite and satiety in human intervention studies; fermentation of NDCs; reliability of self-reported physical activity data (Newcastle University, 2011-2015)
  • 2 x BSc Biological Sciences students - A-type lamins and CRC cell motility and adhesion (Durham University, 2007 & 2008)
  • 4 x Summer students (inc. 1 x ERASMUS and 2 x Science without Borders students) and 1 x volunteer student - the MAIN study (Newcastle University, 2014 & 2015)



Projects

Undergraduate Teaching

  • BSc Biological Sciences, 2nd year - Stem cells and biotechnology, Durham University, UK, 2008-2009.

  • BSc Biomedical Sciences, 3rd year - Developmental neurology, Durham University, UK, 2008-2009.

  • MBBS Medicine, 1st year - Microanatomy + histology practical classes (100 students), Durham University, UK, 2008-2009.