Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Enhance living and post-mortem human nervous tissue resources

Apply for funding to establish a national human nervous tissue sample resource.

This will be a pilot to enable researchers to access living and post-mortem nervous tissue.

The resource should support neuroscience and mental health research.

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

We will fund between two to four projects, from a total fund of £5 million. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Your project may last up to 36 months.

Who can apply

This funding opportunity is open to applicants from eligible UK-based organisations, in accordance with standard MRC eligibility rules.

This includes:

  • higher education institutions
  • eligible independent research organisations
  • eligible public sector research establishments
  • eligible NHS bodies
  • research council institutes.

MRC guidance on institutional and individual eligibility.

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 which is UK-based.

Organisations are permitted to submit a maximum of one lead application to this funding opportunity.

Individuals may be the principal investigator on only one application. Applications may include researcher co-investigators as set out in the MRC researcher co-investigator guidance.

International co-investigators are eligible for inclusion where they provide expertise that is not available in the UK. Please contact us to confirm eligibility prior to submission.

We welcome collaboration with an industrial partner or partners, which should be managed via an MRC industry collaboration agreement.

What we're looking for

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):

  • neurosurgery
  • neuropathology
  • developmental neuroscience
  • epidemiology
  • mental health
  • bioinformatics
  • 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.

Strategic themes

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.

Funding available

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
    • consumables
    • 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.

How to apply

This funding opportunity will operate initially through a mandatory expression of interest prior to a full application stage for invited applicants.

Expression of interest

Full proposals will not be accepted from applicants who have failed to submit an expression of interest.

Expressions of interest should be provided through the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system. Only the principal investigator will be required to register on Je-S at the initial expression of interest stage.

The expression of interest form (DOCX, 82KB) should be completed and uploaded to Je-S by 16:00 on 2 December 2021.

The form includes the request for:

  • the names of
    • the principal investigator
    • potential co-investigators or research co-investigators
    • any collaborating organisations or companies confirmed at this stage
  • the anticipated range of funding request to MRC
  • the expected duration of the programme
  • a brief summary of the proposed project (including aims and objectives).

This is to carry out internal checks by MRC head office to confirm that investigators are eligible to apply and that expressions are within remit for this opportunity.

The expression of interest will also help us manage conflicts at the assessment stage and assist with identifying potential partnerships with other applicants in overlapping strategic areas. It will not involve any expert assessment.

When applying select:

  • council: MRC
  • document type: outline proposal
  • scheme: standard outline
  • call/type/mode: Linking living and post mortem human nervous tissue capabilities EOI.

You must ‘submit document’ which will send your application to your host organisation’s administration.

Your host organisation’s administration is required to complete the submission process. Applicants should allow sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the opportunity closing date.

Applicants should ensure they are aware of, and comply with, any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

Full proposals

The full proposal should be submitted through the Je-S system by the host research organisation by 16:00 UK time on 1 February 2022.

The proposal should follow standard MRC application guidelines.

Creating your Je-S application

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

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).

Principal investigators are advised to contact all co-investigators and research co-investigators at the earliest opportunity, to ensure they have created the required ‘research proposal’ type Je-S account (allowing them to be included in the Je-S form as co-investigator).

Co-investigators and research co-investigators without the required type of Je-S account will not be able to be included within the proposal.

You should give your administrative department sufficient notice that you intend to apply. Your organisation must submit your application before 16:00 on the deadline date.

Guidance completing the Je-S form

Please see the MRC guidance for applicants for general guidance when creating the attachments required for your proposal.

All full applications require a completed proposal form accompanied by a number of mandatory attachments which include:

  • case for support: a maximum of eight pages
  • justification of resources: a maximum of two pages
  • CVs: a maximum of two pages per named person
  • publications: one page per named person
  • data management plan: a maximum of three pages
  • Gantt chart and work plan: a maximum of one page.

The case for support forms the main body of your proposal and should follow the standard MRC case for support content and specifically include:

  • evidence for broad engagement with stakeholders across neurosciences and mental health research communities
  • plans for involvement and engagement of donors, those living with neurological and mental health conditions and members of the public in dissemination and evaluation of the programme to ensure that the outcomes matter to these stakeholders
  • how the resource is positioned in the wider research landscape and existing activities
    evidence of an understanding of the needs of academic and industry researchers and explain how approaches taken in the pilot could address these
  • how the aims and objectives meet the remit for the opportunity
  • how the applicant, or applicant team, is well qualified to conduct the work (this should include justification of the mix of skills and disciplines and how this is appropriate to the aims and objectives)
  • how the project outputs will improve best practice in the field and be disseminated to maximise implementation and adoption
  • the pathway to both implementation and sustainable impact and how barriers to this will be overcome.

How we will assess your application

MRC reserves the right to amend the application process in the case of high demand.
All eligible proposals that are in scope of the funding opportunity will be assessed by a specially convened independent, multidisciplinary expert panel.

We aim to communicate funding recommendations within one week of the full panel meeting. The decision of the panel is final and will not be open to appeal.

Assessment criteria

Applications will be assessed on:

  • how the research fits into the wider landscape and how it helps overcome key gaps or barriers
  • the quality of proposed programme
    • clear aims and objectives and coherence as a package of work
    • skills and disciplines involved are appropriate to the aims and objectives
    • appropriateness and feasibility of the proposed approach
  • engagement with relevant research disciplines and focus on new capabilities
  • project management, risk mitigation, decision-making approaches, community consultation and inclusion of stakeholders
  • value for money and potential for impact
  • appropriateness of resources and effectiveness of management structure
  • plans for the longer-term vision for a new resource
  • plans for wider engagement and inclusiveness.

Contact details

Ask a question about the opportunity


Get help with Je-S

Any queries regarding the submission of proposals through Je-S should be directed to the Je-S helpdesk.


Telephone: 01793 444164

Opening times: Je-S opening times

Additional info

Supplementary to the standard MRC grant conditions, additional conditions will be added to this opportunity. These will include, but are not limited to the following conditions.


This award is contingent upon meeting the progression milestones set out at the full application stage. Failure to meet progression milestones may result in termination of the award at the discretion of MRC.

Without specific prior written approval, MRC will not reimburse the host institution for the costs of any work contributing to a later milestone should it be decided that the criteria of an active milestone have not been met and the programme is terminated.

External advisory board

Grant holders must establish an external advisory board, or equivalent body, to act as a ‘critical friend’ and provide advice on the running of the programme and related activities. This board must meet with grant holders at least once a year, with the grant holders providing the external advisory board with an annual written report before the meeting detailing the project’s:

  • progress against programme objectives and milestones
  • risks and mitigation strategy
  • outputs and training
  • outreach and professional development activities.

Supporting documents

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