This board supports research into disorders of the human nervous system, addressing challenges such as mental illness, and exploring the study of brain tissue.
The Neurosciences and Mental Health Board (NMHB) is responsible for Medical Research Council (MRC)’s investments in disorders of the human nervous system. The board’s strategy includes addressing the challenges of mental illness and neurodegenerative diseases as well as exploring what we can learn from the direct study of human brain tissue to gain insight into the human brain.
To deliver its strategy, the board supports investigator-led grants within its area of remit, and manages a range of strategic investments and partnerships. We also support the development of tools and techniques that help others carry out research on the nervous system. We are particularly interested in multidisciplinary research that will increase our understanding of the brain in health and disease.
Our neurosciences and mental health strategy
We aim to develop scientific knowledge that extends our understanding of disorders of the human nervous system so that new interventions and treatments can be developed. This includes and is underpinned by fundamental research into development, function and disorders of the human nervous system, which informs our understanding of the mechanism of disease. To support fundamental discovery research relating to the human nervous system, the board strongly encourages the use of experimental studies in humans or human tissue and, when human studies are not possible, in silico systems or relevant animal models.
Working with other MRC initiatives and partners, the board seeks to ensure that the insights it supports are translated into health benefits, and that the UK has the necessary infrastructure, skills and expertise to fulfil its aims.
To deliver against its areas of strategic focus, listed below, the board supports the development of strategic partnerships and initiatives and is seeking to develop its portfolio of investigator-led awards through board funding opportunities.
MRC supports world-class mental health research, creating new opportunities to treat and prevent mental illness. The MRC’s Strategy for Lifelong Mental Health Research was published in early 2017. This strategy informs the board’s future direction and strategic priorities in mental health research. This strategy builds on MRC’s strengths in integrative discovery science – linking across genes, animal studies, human psychological studies, in vivo imaging and circuit biology in the context of childhood development and adulthood and experimental medicine. The key elements of the strategy are to:
- employ a lifelong perspective to mental health with a focus on children and adolescents
- explore the comorbidity of physical and mental health
- stratify medicine for mental health research
- harness data using informatics as a tool
- Invest in global mental health
- prevent mental illness by drawing together biological, social and environmental factors and identifying opportunities for action in early life is an important area for the UK Prevention Research Partnership as well as for the board
- build capacity.
The board continues to support research in this area through its regular mechanisms to complement the work of the Dementias Platform UK and the UK Dementia Research Institute.
Find out more about our work on neurodegeneration associated with the dementias.
We welcome applications in areas where it is important to deepen our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, including the impact of comorbidities, such as:
- sleep disturbances
- hearing loss
- chronic inflammatory states
- immunological disorders
- cardiovascular diseases
- metabolic diseases.
We also support work on neurodegenerative conditions that result in progressive degeneration or death of nerve cells, including multiple sclerosis, and disorders of the auditory, visual, motor and autonomic nervous systems.
Insight into the living human brain
To better understand the human brain, the board recognises the need to gain detailed knowledge of human neuronal and glial cell biology, neural circuitry and neurovasculature spanning different levels of spatial and temporal resolution and the interplay with one another. This knowledge may provide novel insights for developing new treatments for neurological disorders.
Bringing together expertise from fields such as (but not limited to) neurosurgery, electrophysiology, microscopy, gene editing and computational neuroscience may help unpack the complex challenges of studying living human brain tissue.
Motor neurone disease (MND)
Research on MND is at an exciting juncture. Significant advances in understanding disease pathogenesis and identifying therapeutic targets are attracting unprecedented interest from industry and a genuine optimism that this disease is controllable.
MRC in partnership with the National Institute for Health and Care Research are therefore seeking to encourage high-quality funding applications in MND to any of our research board or panel grant or fellowship opportunities. We invite applicants to submit innovative research proposals to MRC that aim to:
- improve the mechanistic understanding of MND, including identification and validation of new biomarkers
- investigate potential new therapeutic avenues
We also support MND research through the UK Dementia Research Institute.
Global health is a key MRC strategic aim and we have developed a strategy to support research in this domain, particularly in the area of mental health in low and middle income countries. Through the Global Challenges Research Fund the board has supported new research and new research partnerships through bespoke funding opportunities in global mental health research. Further opportunities in global health are supported through the board’s standard funding opportunities.
Drawing on past successes
The board has several other areas that it has supported in the past through targeted initiatives. We pay attention to these areas to ensure that they maintain momentum. These areas are:
- hearing research
- neurodevelopmental disorders.
The science areas we focus on
The board supports research that will transform our understanding of the physiology and behaviour of the human nervous system throughout the life course in health and in illness, as well as how to treat and prevent disorders of the brain.
The research we support includes the interactions between the nervous system and other parts of the body, including brain and mental health and physical health. We are also interested in how episodes throughout life (such as childhood experiences, changing health behaviours, infections) impact on lifelong mental and neurological health.
The work that we fund encompasses the continuum from basic to translational and includes multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary studies. This science is underpinned by research that uses human, animal and cell models, clinical and population studies, interventions as well as tool and technique development. Our portfolio falls within the following areas:
- clinical neurology
- mental health
- addictions and substance misuse
- behavioural and learning disorders, including autism
- cognitive and behavioural neuroscience
- cognitive systems
- sensory neuroscience, including vision and hearing
This work is supported by underpinning capabilities such as neuroimaging technology, brain banking and neuroinformatics.
The board seeks to support a diverse portfolio of research of relevance to the UK and globally, in particular in low and middle income countries. In addition, through our portfolio of funding, the board seeks to address both long-standing research questions and support the investigation of emergent higher risk opportunities.
We welcome submissions on:
- fundamental discovery research relating to the development, function and disorders of the human nervous system, including use of in silico systems, relevant animal models and experimental studies in humans
- population-level research, using epidemiological, genetic, electrophysiological, neuroimaging, omic approaches, and computational modelling, to elucidate disease risks, aetiologies and progression of disorders of the nervous system
- research to inform novel strategies for preventing and treating disorders of the nervous system.
If you are interested in an application for a longitudinal population study (or population cohort), please read the guidance on research involving cohort resources in the MRC guidance for applicants.
All applications for funding of new or existing longitudinal population studies are required to submit an outline application for joint review by the LPS Strategic Advisory Panel and the research board. You cannot apply to the board without going through this process first, so please get in touch with the relevant programme manager at least six weeks before the outline submission deadline.