Multimodal research across scales to understand human disease

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Apply for funding to support the development of a new research collaboration to expand understanding of human disease.

Your proposed study must:

  • integrate different modes and scales of biomedical research
  • investigate human disease or dysfunction
  • be a new collaboration that connects groups with different expertise.

We particularly encourage innovative high-risk approaches that seek a radical shift in current understanding.

You must be eligible for MRC funding.

Your collaboration will be funded for up to three years. We expect to fund up to five projects.

Who can apply

The principal investigator must be based at the lead organisation, which should be UK-based and one of the following:

  • higher education institution
  • independent research organisations or NHS body
  • government-funded organisation (other than an MRC unit or institute)
  • MRC institute
  • MRC unit and partnership institute
  • institute or unit funded by other research councils
  • public sector research establishment

We seek to catalyse new collaborations, bringing together two or more groups with expertise in different research modalities that reach across biomedical disciplines. For further eligibility criteria please see the MRC guidance for applicants handbook (PDF, 897KB).

Where two or more investigators will have equal intellectual input and leadership roles, they may be named as co-principal investigators. Provision is made for this in the outline application form (Word, 63 KB).

Applications may include collaborations with commercial parties under the MRC Industry Collaboration Agreement framework. The relevant form will be required at the full application stage only.

Researchers from the same institution can apply as long as they demonstrate that this represents a novel collaboration.

Applications may include co-Investigators from outside the UK, including those in low-to-middle-income countries, if they provide expertise not available in the UK.

Inclusion of an overseas co-investigator must be discussed and agreed with the Programme Manager (Dr Rebecca Aarons, multimodal@ukri.org) in advance of application.

What we're looking for

MRC is seeking to catalyse new collaborations, bringing together two or more groups with expertise in different research areas or approaches.

The aim is to build an integrated mechanistic understanding of human disease through the application of multiple and distinct research modalities that address biological problems across scales in novel and innovative ways.

With this pump-priming initiative, we seek to push the boundaries of the research that is currently being carried out and foster entirely new lines of enquiry at the interface of biomedical disciplines.

The total fund available is £5 million and we anticipate funding up to five collaborative projects over a funding period of up to three years.

We aim to explore opportunities for a larger initiative across councils to further build on this investment.

Scope

The initiative will support the development of novel research collaborations that connect two or more teams with expertise in different and complementary scales or modalities for the first time. We expect that investigators would not usually have published research papers or held grants together.

The initiative will allow investigators to expand their respective research beyond single or closely related scales or modalities into new territory, towards multi-modal and multi-scale approaches that can achieve a paradigm shift in the research questions being addressed.

We are inviting hypothesis-driven proposals that seek to develop a more holistic understanding of the complexity of human disease or dysfunction by studying the (dynamic) interplay of biological processes across a range of scales and modalities that would not be feasible for a single group.

This is expected to break new ground in the field and will involve integrating research approaches and data to address mechanisms that may reach across:

  • scales, from molecules to cells, tissues, organs, physiological systems, the whole organisms, or population-based information
  • modalities, including:
    • structural analysis
    • cell, tissue, organism imaging
    • ‘omics’
    • functional read-outs
    • exposure
  • quantitative analysis, including:
    • mathematical modelling
    • machine learning or broader artificial intelligence approaches
    • iteration between modelling and experimentation.

The initiative focuses on human disease and studies may be conducted in humans, use human cells, samples or data, or creative approaches to human models. For example:

  • human tissue models, including organoids
  • organs on a chip
  • or in silico models.

We particularly encourage innovative, high-risk approaches that present the opportunity for a radical shift in current understanding.

This may involve the application of novel technologies to a range of new research questions, or making effective use of the richness of existing resources. For example, using epidemiological data to enhance mechanistic understanding.

Partnerships with industry are welcomed.

Illustrative examples include:

  • integrating molecular and cellular approaches with higher organisational levels (tissue, organism) or correlative data such as ‘omics’ to understand human pathologies
  • integrating imaging or analytical data from clinical or population cohorts with mechanistic experimental studies to gain insight into function
  • improving mechanistic understanding of multi-morbidities, through integration of epidemiological or clinical data with experimental studies on models of human disease
  • linking exposure data with molecular and physiological experimental analysis to understand causality.

Exclusions

We will not fund:

  • studies focusing on ‘normal’ (non-disease) biology
  • any research involving animal models
  • studies conducted by individual groups or building on well-established collaborations, we expect that groups would not usually have published research papers or held grants together
  • purely observational or correlative research that does not address an experimental hypothesis
  • research solely focusing on integration of existing data and not involving experimentation
  • substantial technology development that goes beyond the repurposing or adaptation of existing technologies to address new research questions.

How to apply

This funding opportunity will involve a two-stage review process, consisting of an initial mandatory outline stage followed by a full application (for invited applicants only).

Outline applications

We advise applicants to refer to the assessment criteria in the ’How we will assess your application’ section when writing a proposal.

Outline applications should be submitted using the outline application form, which should be attached to your Je-S application.

Multimodal research outline application form (Word, 63 KB).

Applying through Je-S

You must apply through the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

To enable the creation and submission of a proposal through Je-S, the host or lead organisation is required to have registered with Je-S.

A list of registered organisations is available on the homepage of the Je-S portal (please note that this does not include self-registered organisations).

Only the principal investigator will be required to register on Je-S at the outline stage.

Please note, if your organisation is not currently registered, please navigate to the Je-S website and select self-registration for organisations, which will allow you to add your organisation to the Je-S database (allowing the direct submission of your proposal to MRC through Je-S).

When applying select:

  • council: MRC
  • document type: outline proposal
  • scheme: standard outline
  • call/type/mode: Multimodal Multiscale Initiative Outline Aug 2021.

Outline applications must include the following as attachments:

  • completed outline application form (case for support)
  • applicant CVs (principal investigator and co-investigators, maximum two pages each)
  • a combined publication list (up to one page maximum) comprising the most important publications of each applicant with relevance to the proposed collaborative project.

The deadline for outline applications is 16:00 on 6 August 2021.

Full application

You can only submit a full application if you have been successful at the outline stage.

Applicants successful at the outline stage will be invited to submit a full application through Je-S from September or October 2021, with a deadline of December 2021. The full application form will be provided to applicants following the outline decision.

How we will assess your application

Your proposal will be assessed via a two-stage review process. The initial outline application is designed to capture key information on the research question, approaches and the research team in order to assess your proposal’s fit to the remit and ambitions of the call, and to provide general feedback to guide the submission of full applications.

Outline application

Outline applications will be considered by a scientific review panel, convened by MRC.

Recommendations to invite to the full application stage will be made by the panel. To be within remit for the call, applications must:

  • present a new collaboration that brings together a strong group of investigators with expertise in different modalities
  • address an important and novel research question, at the boundary of biomedical disciplines that breaks new ground in the field
  • propose innovative approaches with the potential to lead to radically new understanding
  • focus on understanding human disease or dysfunction, which may involve studies in humans, using human cells, samples or data, or creative approaches to human models
  • be hypothesis driven and involve experimental approaches as well as integration of data across different modalities and scales.

High-risk approaches are particularly encouraged.

Full application

This stage will only be open to applicants who are successful at the outline stage.

Successful applicants will be invited to an information webinar (October 2021, date to be confirmed) and provided with further guidance upon invitation to submit a full application in September or October. The deadline for full applications will be in December 2021 (date to be confirmed).

Full applications will be assessed using the standard criteria for an MRC research grant in addition to specific criteria for the multimodal research call (detail to be provided upon invitation to full application stage).

Read the standard MRC research grant criteria.

All applications will be sent out for independent expert peer review before consideration by the panel for a funding decision.

Please note that MRC reserves the right to amend the review process in the case of high demand.

We aim to communicate funding decisions within one week of the full panel meeting in March 2022.

Contact details

Ask a question about this opportunity

If you are unsure whether your proposal meets the remit, please contact the Programme Manager, Dr Rebecca Aarons, before submission of an outline application.

Email: multimodal@ukri.org

Get help with Je-S

If you need help in applying, you can contact the Je-S helpdesk.

Email: jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org
Telephone: 01793 444164

Je-S helpdesk is staffed from Monday to Thursday 8:30 to 17:00 and Fridays 8:30 to 16:30 (excluding bank holidays and other holidays).

Additional info

An information webinar will be held in mid to late October 2021 (date to be confirmed) for applicants who have been successful at the outline stage. Invitations to join the webinar will be extended to those applicants following the outline panel meeting.

Supporting documents

Multimodal research outline application form (Word, 63KB)

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