Research involving human brain and nervous tissue is necessary to support cutting-edge, fundamental and disease-oriented neuroscience and mental health research.
Innovative approaches and development of new capabilities for the provision and characterisation of human nervous tissue are needed to increase the range of data available to understand neural systems and disease across biological scales.
Enhancing the integration of data derived from living nervous tissue (such as samples collected through diagnostic or neurosurgical procedures) with that from human cellular models (for example organoids) and post-mortem analyses has the potential to deliver a step change for this.
Scope and remit
This opportunity for funding is to support an innovative pilot demonstration for a national human sample resource. This will enable researcher access to well characterised living (such as tissue or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) collected through diagnostic or neurosurgical procedures) and post-mortem nervous tissues.
To be within scope, proposals are required to:
- show evidence for broad engagement with stakeholders (including donors, those living with neurological and mental health conditions and members of the public) across neurosciences and mental health research communities
- provide evidence of an understanding of the needs of academic and industry researchers and explain how approaches taken in the pilot could address these
- describe how the resource is aligned with (or complements) prior or currently planned UK research investments
- demonstrate feasibility with initiation of sample collection and associated data and their distribution.
It is anticipated that these awards will build new capacity by linking expertise and resourcing from multiple disciplines including (but not restricted to):
- developmental neuroscience
- mental health
- health informatics.
A central focus of the programme should be on implementing and encouraging ‘open science’ that ensures the widest possible research access to samples and data derived from these.
Applicants should address specifically how barriers to sample and sensitive data access can be minimised for individual researchers or multi-site, multi-disciplinary consortia. Appropriate levels of care for the valuable and depletable human tissue and biosample resource, together with donor data privacy, will need to be maintained.
Proposals may exploit existing tissue and data resources, but would be expected to augment these in major ways. Demonstrations of how new approaches to increasing the usefulness of human nervous tissue samples (for example through enhancing meta-data associated with samples) that can be adopted and scaled to a larger resource are encouraged.
Added value to programmes can come from development of ways in which existing resources, such as nationally collated health or NHS datasets, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) or clinical infrastructure, or well characterised population-based cohorts can be utilised.
Applicants must outline appropriate milestones for monitoring progress against objectives and will need to consider the longer-term vision for a new resource, beyond the initial pilot (including potential routes of further funding).
Proposals should consider approaches and frameworks to assure continued use and enhancement of the resource, for example:
- being responsive to end user needs
- engagement with industry or other strategic partners.
Proposals are welcomed across the full remit of the opportunity. However, we particularly encourage programmes that address one or more of the following key strategic gaps and areas of need identified through UKRI MRC stakeholder consultation:
- increasing the range, availability and access to living human nervous tissue
- maximising the comprehensiveness and accuracy of data linked to tissue samples, such as associated demographic, environmental and clinical data
- providing opportunities for donation of human nervous tissue by participants in longitudinal population cohorts and its use with linked cohort data by researchers
- application of new or emerging technologies for sample characterisation to increase the value of human nervous tissue collected for the research community
- making human cell lines derived from donated tissues (for example living brain, dura or skin) available for researchers
- complementing human central nervous system tissue collection with other tissue (for example, peripheral tissues such as gut and enteric nerves) and relevant biofluids.
It is expected that proposals will consider:
- creation of a multi-centre collaborative network for collection, management and characterisation of samples collected
- integration of descriptions of all resources (samples and linked data) and initial user access to them through a single site or portal (‘one-stop shop’)
- minimising access approval, transaction times and complexity of sample acquisition for both single investigators and multi-centre collaborative groups
- a strategy for prioritising collection or characterisation of tissues and biofluids that will deliver the highest value (for example, by increasing availability of samples from people without nervous system disease or major comorbidities of late life brain diseases, or from under-represented populations across all life stages)
- describing pathways for future resource development to be as fully representative of the UK population and the major diseases affecting the nervous system as possible
- adoption of consents, an open data sharing approach and findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR) data management principles to maximise the usefulness of data generated from biofluids and tissues
- standardising approaches for sample collection to address issues such as harmonising consents to facilitate widest tissue use and sample quality assurance
- ensuring that protocols for collection, storage and distribution are well-suited to the needs of users employing cutting-edge investigative methods
- the involvement of patients and the public in the decision-making process and evidence that the proposal objectives and the resources that it plans to provide are informed by the needs and values of all (donors, research users and public) stakeholders
- a communications strategy to support activities such as:
- engaging the wider research community (including underrepresented groups) on topics such as consent and donation
- developing partnerships with industry
- improving end user interaction
- exploring opportunities for collaborative support and development of the resource with industry partners both to ensure sustainability and to enhance the future scale of activities.
Total funding of up to £5 million is available to support proposals under this opportunity. We expect to fund two to four programmes and applications may request funding for up to 36 months.
Awards are expected to start in spring 2022.
Funding will be awarded at 80% full economic cost (unless otherwise stated) and can be requested to cover:
- the time of the leadership team
- research activities, for example:
- research staff
- costs of running the award including project management and administrative support
- knowledge mobilisation, dissemination and engagement activities with key stakeholders
- supporting appropriate ‘public and patient involvement and engagement’.
Read a full account of grant costs in the MRC guidance for applicants.