Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Mathematical biology

Mathematical biology covers research into the development and application of state-of-the-art mathematical or statistical tools and techniques to investigate biological processes and systems, including those of relevance to the medical sciences.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Mathematical biology covers research into the development and application of state-of-the-art mathematical or statistical tools and techniques to investigate biological processes and systems, including those of relevance to the medical sciences.

It includes research into the development of such tools for the mathematical treatment of biological processes operating at any spatial or temporal scale, or over multiple scales, from the molecular level to the whole population level.

This research area also incorporates novel combinations of existing mathematical techniques or novel applications of mathematics, which inspire new ideas in both the mathematics and biological science areas. Research in this area may incorporate aspects of complexity science.

Research employing mature or well-established mathematical or statistical methodologies to investigate biological processes and systems is not included in this portfolio and will instead be supported under other relevant parts of the EPSRC portfolio, or by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC), or Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) depending upon the nature of the research involved.

The drive towards increasingly quantitative descriptions of systems and processes in the life sciences has stimulated demand for innovative mathematical and statistical tools and techniques to tackle biological and biomedical challenges.

This strategy aims to ensure that the UK has an appropriate research and skills base to respond to demand while delivering mathematically excellent research. EPSRC has established a complementary approach at the interface of life and mathematical sciences through active co-funding initiatives with other research councils (BBSRC, MRC and NERC).

We aim to:

  • develop a sustainable portfolio of research into novel mathematical and statistical techniques for biological modelling, prediction and analysis in healthcare, building on the critical mass established by the centres for mathematical sciences in healthcare
  • encourage increased collaboration and integration between statisticians and mathematicians working at the interface with the life sciences, and stimulate improved links between mathematical biology and areas of the mathematical sciences beyond traditional applied mathematics (for example geometry and topology, mathematical analysis, and statistics and applied probability). Researchers are encouraged to take advantage of mathematical sciences infrastructure to facilitate development of new collaborations
  • enhance mathematical biology’s impact by encouraging closer links with other relevant areas of engineering and the physical sciences (for example, biological informatics, biophysics and soft matter physics and synthetic biology) and by promoting knowledge exchange between mathematical sciences, life sciences and end-users, including industry.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Mathematical biology in the UK is internationally excellent. The UK is a major contributor to the discipline, alongside the US and other parts of Europe. The community’s strength has been recognised through numerous awards and prizes, both nationally and internationally.

The importance of mathematical biology stems from its contribution to the life and medical sciences, with mathematical modelling highlighted in the Maxwell review that assessed the importance of engineering and physical sciences to health and life sciences. In the longer term, advanced mathematical tools and techniques are expected to be critical to key UK industries, including pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.

Evidence from the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 exercise suggests that overall researcher numbers working wholly or primarily in mathematical biology increased significantly. There is some concern, however, around the supply of new researchers with the appropriate interdisciplinary skills to be successful in this area.

The BBSRC and MRC review of vulnerable skills identified that mathematics, statistics and computational biology skills were lacking among researchers from a life sciences background, increasing demand for mathematically trained researchers with skills at the interface with the life sciences.

EPSRC has supported a number of centres for doctoral training (CDTs) with at least some relevance to the area and mathematical biology currently draws the third-largest training budget of all mathematical sciences research areas.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for mathematical biology.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Who to contact

Rachael Pittaway, Portfolio Manager, Mathematical Sciences

Email: rachael.pittaway@epsrc.ukri.org

Telephone: 07874 884070

General enquiries

Email: maths@epsrc.ukri.org

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