Mapping complexity of pain with the Advanced Pain Discovery Platform

Apply for funding to investigate underlying mechanisms of pain across a range of conditions.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for MRC funding.

You must explain how you plan to involve people with lived experience of chronic pain.

Your project will become part of the Advanced Pain Discovery Platform (APDP). The data must be made available to the APDP pain research data hub.

We will fund your project for up to three years. We will fund 67% of the full economic cost.

Who can apply

This funding opportunity is open to applicants from eligible UK-based organisations in accordance with standard UKRI, Versus Arthritis and Medical Research Foundation practice.

See more details on institutional and individual eligibility in the MRC guidance for applicants.

Applications from early and mid-career researchers are encouraged.

We expect a clear commitment to involvement of people with lived experience of chronic pain and the public, both in the development and implementation of the proposed research.

Recognising the value of regional research and leadership, proposals can be submitted that involve multi-institutional collaboration. However, proposals must be submitted by a single lead organisation.

We encourage collaborations with an industrial partner or partners. MRC industry collaboration agreements (MICAs) are the mechanism by which academic-industrial collaborations can apply to the MRC. You and your potential collaborators should refer to the guidance on MICAs (MRC).

You can also include international co-investigators if they provide expertise that’s not available in the UK.

The research grants are expected to start on 1 February 2022.

What we're looking for

This funding opportunity is to support innovative research grants seeking to increase our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of pain as a part of the APDP (MRC).

Proposals may seek to explore mechanisms of pain in various disciplines, including these aspects:

  • psychological
  • biological
  • cognitive
  • sociological.

Where possible within the scope of the research question, researchers are encouraged to work together across disciplines to facilitate novel research into the underlying mechanisms of pain.

Each proposal may focus on a specific pain condition, or a specific aspect of pain, or they may span conditions. We expect to support pre-clinical as well as clinical research projects, with a focus on understanding the mechanisms of pain. All projects must demonstrate a clear pathway to impact for people with lived experience of chronic pain.

Applications seeking to increase our understanding of the transition from acute to chronic pain, changes in the experience of pain, or the transition to remission are encouraged.

Proposals may involve a wide range of methodology across disciplines, and we particularly encourage applications involving:

  • the use of artificial intelligence
  • machine learning
  • other innovative data technologies.

The opportunity is funded in partnership with Versus Arthritis, the Medical Research Foundation and Eli Lilly, and proposals with a focus on musculoskeletal conditions, both in adults and young people, are encouraged.

Through the involvement of the Medical Research Foundation, a part of the available budget (up to £3.5 million) has been ring-fenced for funding of research into mechanisms of pain in children and adolescents, with a particular, but not sole, focus on musculoskeletal conditions in this group.

The funding opportunity will support a broad portfolio of research projects ranging from smaller, more focused grants to larger research grants. Please note that funding can be sought for a maximum of three years.

To ensure a diverse portfolio we do not expect to support grants above £1 million. Early and mid-career researchers are strongly encouraged to apply.

Collaborative working within the APDP

The research funded through this funding opportunity will be expected to work with the recently established APDP consortia and Alleviate (the APDP pain research data hub), to share information, and identify and exploit synergies between research disciplines and conditions.

Funded applicants will be incorporated into the APDP through an engagement platform and networking activities to enhance collaboration and coordination across the UK pain research community. Applicants do not need any link to the APDP Consortia or data hub prior to applying.

Applicants are, however, encouraged to explore opportunities for strategic alignment with the Consortia where scientific overlap exists.

Read about the new APDP data hub and consortia.

Applicants should make contact with the data hub prior to applying to understand expectations on data gathering, management and integration into the hub to advance the aims of the APDP.

It’s expected that the research grant applicants will:

  • be informed by the needs of stakeholders, including people with lived experience of chronic pain and members of the public, and propose plans for meaningful involvement during the award
  • align their research with other parts of the APDP through sharing of information and resources where appropriate, as well as joining in engagement activities arranged through the platform
  • make their data available through the APDP pain research data hub, and establish contact with the hub prior to commencing research activities to ensure that harmonised data gathering takes place.

Additional funding conditions

The funded research will be expected to align with branding and communications guidelines that will be set out in the award letter.

Funding available

A joint UKRI, Versus Arthritis, Medical Research Foundation and Eli Lilly investment of up to £10.5 million over three years is available to support the funding of up to 15 grants.

Please note that given this investment is a partnership between multiple funding partners, awards will be made at 67% of full economic cost.

Funding requests may include:

  • investigators’ salaries – the principal investigator, co-investigators and researcher co-investigators can request funds to cover their salary costs for the time spent on conducting research activities and managing the grant
  • other costs:
    • consumables
    • sub-contractors
    • other costs directly related to the project, including costs related to linking up with other APDP activities
  • costs supporting involvement of people with lived experience of chronic pain and members of the public
  • travel and subsistence enabling members to meet to exchange ideas and expertise, which may include visits by or to experts overseas (industrial collaborators should meet their own travel costs)
  • other staff, only for staff who will be dedicated to the proposed research activities, or whose time working on the project can be fully supported by an auditable record for its duration.

Pool staff or staff whose time will be shared with other projects or activities and will not be supported by an auditable record should be requested under the ‘other directly allocated costs’ heading.

PhD students and fellowships cannot be supported through this award.

Read a full account of grant costs in the MRC guidance for applicants.

How to apply

Please email the intention to submit form to spfpain@mrc.ukri.org by 16:00, 15 July 2021.

This is mandatory. Proposals will not be accepted from applicants who have failed to submit an intention to submit.

Download the intention to submit form (Word, 51KB)

Please include the names of:

  • the principal investigator
  • potential co-investigators
  • any collaborating organisations confirmed at this stage.

This is to help us prepare for peer review and manage conflicts at the panel assessment stage and will not involve any expert assessment.

The full proposal should be submitted through the Je-S (Joint Electronic Submissions) system by 15 September 2021 16:00. The proposal should follow standard MRC application guidelines.

Read the MRC application guidelines.

The proposal should consist of a completed Je-S form and the following attachments.

Case for support

Maximum eight sides A4.

The case for support forms the main body of your proposal and should follow the standard  case for support content (MRC).

Reproducibility and statistical design

The purpose of this annex is to provide important additional information on reproducibility, and to explain the steps taken to ensure the reliability and robustness of the chosen methodology and experimental design.

Please note in this context, methodology refers to the rationale for choosing which method to use and not the provision of detailed descriptions of the methods to be used.

It is mandatory that a one-page annex to the case for support is included, to provide additional information specifically relating to the statistical analyses, methodology and experimental design aspects of the proposal (beyond that contained in the main case for support).

Please note that you should not duplicate information presented elsewhere in the application.

Supporting data – patient and public involvement and engagement (PPIE) strategy

Maximum of two pages.

You must complete the APDP supporting data PPIE strategy (Word, 48KB).

People with lived experience of chronic pain are at the heart of the APDP. All awards through the APDP will be expected to have been informed by the needs of stakeholders, including people with lived experience of chronic pain (which can include carers and family members), and members of the public.

Research proposals are expected to include plans for their meaningful involvement during the award. Assessment by people with lived experience of chronic pain forms an integral part of each stage of the review process.

You must include a document detailing how your proposal has been informed by the needs of people with lived experience of chronic pain, and how they will be involved in the research, should your application be successful. We require a clear commitment to their involvement in the dissemination of your research.

Please use clear and inclusive language throughout. Insights from your PPIE activity should be incorporated throughout your application. Please answer the following questions in your PPIE document:

  1. how did you determine that your proposal addresses an important unmet need for people with lived experience of chronic pain?
  2. how have people with lived experience of chronic pain helped you define your research question and its objectives?
  3. what are your proposed plans for meaningful involvement of stakeholders, including people with lived experience of chronic pain (which can include carers and family members) and members of the public during the award, should your application be successful?
  4. if awarded, what impact and potential benefits will this application have on those living with chronic pain (short or long term)?

Justification of resources

The role of the justification of resources (JoR) is to aid reviewers when assessing proposals so that they can make an informed judgement on whether the resources requested are appropriate for the research posed.

The JoR is a mandatory attachment to the proposal and should be no more than two sides of A4.

Learn more about the justification of resources (MRC).

Data management plan (DMP)

This is a mandatory attachment. Please use the DMP template (Word, 131KB).

CVs and list of publications

CVs (maximum two sides A4) and list of publications (maximum one side A4) for the principal investigator and each co-investigator.

Letters of support from project partners

For proposals containing project partners, you must include a letter of support from each partner.

The letter must be a maximum of two pages.

Read more about project partners (MRC).

MICA form and heads of terms (if applicable)

These attachments apply to applications with an industrial project partner.

To understand if this applies to your proposal, read the MRC Industry Collaboration Agreement (MICA) guidance.

All proposals must be completed and submitted through the Je-S system by 15 September 2021, 16:00.

All applications need to be submitted through the lead research organisation (RO), which in turn must be Je-S registered. All applicants should consult the team responsible for proposal submissions at their RO to confirm how much time they will need to process the application and complete the submission process.

Please leave enough time to ensure that all co-investigators are fully registered on the system. This process from start to finish can take up to a month.  Any public or patient collaborators should be included as project partners.

Creating your Je-S application

Please note that the funding opportunity will be available to select on Je-S from 15 June 2021.

All investigators (principal investigator and co-investigators) are required to have a verified Je-S account type.

If you are a new Je-S user, to start the create account process and gain access to the Je-S system, accept the terms and conditions (Je-S).

Sign in to Je-S and select ‘documents’ from your account ‘home’ page and then select ‘add new document’.

When applying select:

  • council: MRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: joint partners
  • call/type/mode: SPF Advanced Pain Discovery Platform Research Grants Sep 2021.

Select ‘Create document’.

How we will assess your application

All eligible proposals that are in scope of the funding opportunity will be reviewed and assessed by a specially convened independent, multidisciplinary expert panel against the criteria below.

The panel will include representatives from a range of fields, alongside people with lived experience of chronic pain. Shortlisted applicants will receive feedback and be given the opportunity to respond to peer review after the shortlisting meeting in November 2021.

Scope and vision

This must cover:

  • importance of research questions, including clearly specified goals and expected outputs that align with the scope of the funding opportunity and will significantly improve our understanding of the mechanisms of pain
  • clear positioning in the wider landscape of UK and international pain research and evidence of innovation that will add to the current knowledge base and synergise with ongoing research beyond that of the applicants
  • positioning of the proposed research in an interdisciplinary context; how the proposal will inform on the biological, cognitive and/or psychosocial factors underpinning pain
  • where relevant, is there potential for the research to stimulate future industry collaborations or provide other value to industry?

Patient and public involvement and engagement

This must cover:

  • evidence that the proposal, its objective, the data it plans to gather and/or the resources it will provide are informed by the needs of stakeholders, including people with lived experience of chronic pain
  • quality of the plans for meaningful involvement of people with lived experience of chronic pain during the award
  • quality and feasibility of plans to involve key stakeholders, people with lived experience of chronic pain and members of the public in dissemination and evaluation of the research to ensure that the outcomes matter to patients and the public.

Feasibility and quality

This must cover:

  • clearly described aims and objectives that ensures good scientific progress
  • robust methodology and experimental design focused on reproducibility including:
    • measures for avoidance of bias (such as blinding or randomisation)
    • number of experimental and control groups and sample size per group
    • how the sample size was calculated, showing power calculations and including justification of effect size
    • overview of the planned statistical analyses in relation to the primary outcomes to be assessed
    • frequency of measurements or interventions to be used
    • circumstances in which power calculations are not appropriate to determine sample size
  • identification of project risks and robust risk mitigation plans
  • clear and robust data management plan, taking into account:
    • the types, scale and complexity of data being (or to be) managed
    • the likely long-term value for further research, including by sharing data
    • the anticipated information security and ethics requirements.

Impact and engagement

This must cover:

  • potential for economic and societal impact of the proposed research including:
    • identification of realistic potential improvements to human or population health
    • contribution to relieving disease/disability burden and/or improving quality of life
    • identification of potential impacts of research and plans to deliver these
  • evidence of plans to work in close partnership with the APDP consortia and other APDP investments to maximise synergies and collaboration across the APDP investments.

Leadership, management and governance

This must cover:

  • convincing and coherent leadership, management and governance plans
  • evidence of the team’s scientific or clinical leadership and an effective integration of expertise and skills to deliver the proposed research as well as a suitable research environment
  • appropriate identification and management of ethical and research governance issues
  • justification of resources requested and value for money
  • clear confirmation that the data gathered will be made available to Alleviate – the APDP pain research data hub, and that efforts will be made to harmonise the data gathered with other initiatives across the APDP.

Contact details

Ask a question about the scientific aspects of your proposal

Email: spfpain@mrc.ukri.org

Get help with Je-S

Email: jeshelp@jes.ukri.org

Phone: +44 (0) 1793 44 4164

The Je-S Helpdesk is staffed Monday to Friday 8:30 to 17:00 (excluding bank holidays and other holidays).

Ask about the direction of the APDP

Contact Professor David Walsh, APDP Director: david.walsh@mrc.ukri.org

Additional info

Background

Chronic pain is a major unmet global public health challenge and can have a devastating effect on the lives of those it affects and those around them. It is estimated that up to 20% of the UK population suffer chronic pain. As a result, this also represents a major challenge for the UK economy.

To help address this challenge, a multidisciplinary approach is needed to generate a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms, as well as associated biological, social and economic factors that contribute to pain.

As a result, the hope is to develop improved treatments that will ultimately improve the lives of people living with pain conditions and their families.

The APDP (MRC) is a five year, £24 million initiative funded through the government’s Strategic Priorities Fund and delivered in partnership through:

  • MRC
  • ESRC
  • BBSRC
  • Versus Arthritis
  • Eli Lilly.

After the initial launch, the Medical Research Foundation has also joined the platform to complement the research grant phase funding with up to £3.5 million. The APDP aims to deliver a consortium-based platform of national scale, generating discovery and early translational science that will break through the complexity of pain and reveal new treatment approaches to address a wide spectrum of pain conditions.

In the first two phases of the APDP, multidisciplinary consortia as well as a data hub have been set up. The multidisciplinary consortia link together researchers across the breadth of sciences, including:

  • biomedical
  • psychological
  • social
  • informatics
  • data.

It builds the foundation of this national-scale programme supporting discovery and translational science that will bring together leadership, tools and resources to help unravel the complexity of pain, driving new treatment development.

The APDP pain research data hub will work to bring together, curate and improve existing data sets that are valuable to the chronic pain research community.

The data hub will also be central to all data and results generated from across the APDP investments, including the large consortia and research grants. This will provide a key national resource for the pain research community to:

  • tackle the long-term research challenges in understanding the complexity and unpredictability of pain
  • reveal new and improved treatments across diverse chronic and debilitating pain conditions.

The pain research data hub will work in partnership with each of the APDP investments to facilitate working across different types of data (molecular, cellular, phenotypic, administrative, health, social data and so on). It will also support industry partnerships, thereby helping to drive translation to health improvements.

As the third phase of the UKRI and Versus Arthritis SPF APDP initiative we are launching a call for research grant proposals, in collaboration with:

  • the Medical Research Foundation
  • Eli Lilly.

This is to complement the other initiatives in the APDP.

The proposals can be from any area of pain research, focusing on increased understanding of the mechanisms of pain with meaningful outcomes for people with lived experience of pain.

Successful applicants will engage with the wider APDP through networking events, as well as sharing of data, experience and resources.

Supporting documents

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