Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Molecular and cellular medicine

The aim of this programme is to support and fund research into basic biological mechanisms or technologies relevant to human health and disease, including understanding the aetiology of disease and developing treatments.

Partners involved:
Medical Research Council (MRC)

The scope and what we're doing

The Medical Research Council (MRC)’s high-level research priorities and how these will be tackled are summarised in its strategic plan: research changes lives. The research boards are one of the principal vehicles for delivering MRC investments and the Molecular and Cellular Medicine Board’s (MCMB) science underpins many of these research priorities.

Within these high-level priorities, the MCMB takes responsibility for MRC’s regenerative medicine activities, which incorporates strategic funding for new translational initiatives, regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.

The boards play an important role in developing strategy, within their particular areas of responsibility and they help to shape MRC’s overarching strategy. Working across MRC and with other partners, MCMB aims to tackle gaps in knowledge and infrastructure needs to deliver new insights and benefits to human health.

MCMB wants to encourage high-quality proposals and enhance MRC investment in two board opportunity areas. MCMB will use these, alongside overarching opportunities (early independent investigators, experimental medicine and advanced therapeutics), to prioritise investments during funding discussions. MCMB will assess progress against its opportunity areas annually but expects to keep them for at least three years.

MCMB is also keen to support researchers who want to establish their independence or who are early in their independence. MCMB is committed to developing new technologies and their application to biomedical science and is keen to see applications that fall under the MRC, BBSRC and EPSRC Technology Touching Life (TTL) initiative. This aims to foster interdisciplinary research into innovative technological capabilities that will drive world-leading basic health and life sciences discovery research. MCMB is happy to support joint funding with its partner research councils. The research complex at Harwell partnership aligns with the TTL initiative’s interests. The complex offers laboratory space and specialist equipment to support work using the Diamond synchrotron, Central Laser Facility and ISIS neutron facility on the Harwell campus. MCMB is keen to consider applications that seek accommodation within this facility. If you wish to discuss submitting an application in this area email anne.mcgavigan@mrc.ukri.org.

Global health is also a strategic priority of MRC and MCMB is keen to receive applications in this area that fall within the board remit. Notable opportunities include research that explores the links between environmental exposure and human disease in low and middle income countries (LMICs) under the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund initiative.

Our science areas

MCMB supports:

  • cell biology: understanding the fundamental properties, structure and function of the cell and how it responds to and influences its local environment
  • structural biology and biophysics: understanding the atomic organisation of molecules and macromolecular complexes and the dynamic, functional relationships between these components in cells and biological systems
  • molecular and functional genetics, epigenetics, genomics: understanding the fundamental mechanisms of replication, gene regulation and functional genetics and genomics
  • developmental and stem cell biology (excluding neurobiology): understanding the mechanisms of development, differentiation, growth and regeneration at the molecular, genetic and cellular levels
  • regenerative medicine: mechanisms underpinning regenerative medicine – this excludes research that focuses on particular organs or tissues, other than haematology
  • molecular haematology: investigating mechanisms underpinning blood diseases at the molecular, genetic, cellular and systems levels, including aetiology and prognosis
  • the development and application of chemical, biological and physical tools to study and manipulate biological systems relevant to health and disease (for example, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, chemical biology and gene or cell therapy)
  • medical bioinformatics (including biostatistics, computational biology and systems biology): development and application of analytical approaches to understand biological mechanisms in human health and disease
  • cancer: basic cancer biology, translational research and epidemiology, including exploring the mechanisms of existing and new therapeutics (small molecules, radiation and biologics) and the adverse health effects of radiation exposure
  • toxicology and adverse health effects of environmental exposures: exploring the causal pathways and mechanisms through which toxic insults (for example, environmental agents, xenobiotics, adverse drug reactions, radiation) cause adverse outcomes and ill health
  • pharmacology: understanding the mechanisms of drug action at molecular, cellular and systems levels to improve efficacy and targeting (including through stratification), and minimise adverse or off-target effects.

Strategic objectives

To achieve our strategic objectives, MRC delivers research excellence through a series of flexible investment mechanisms, including joint investments with other funders, meeting the diverse research needs across the UK, and overseas. We are keen to support collaborative, multidisciplinary research that brings the best expertise and technologies together to tackle the major challenges in biomedicine. The usual support mechanism is through individual grants awarded to UK higher education institutions.

Major strategic investments

Where more concerted action is needed, MRC invests through institutes, units and centres, incorporating strong leadership, mission-focused research, training or capacity-building, and applying innovative technology and methodology to tackle major research challenges. These investments include strategic partnerships with host universities, and a number include joint support with other funders.

Partnership working

We encourage opportunities for collaborative research partnerships (for example, biomedical scientists, physicists or engineers, chemists, bioinformaticians) and those that apply interdisciplinary approaches (such as chemical biology, computational or systems biology, imaging technologies, innovative model systems, for example, organoids) to support our objectives.

As part of MRC’s capacity-building activities in toxicology (including those related to environmental exposures and adverse drug reactions), MCMB supports the integrative toxicology training partnership. This is a core investment through the MRC Toxicology Unit to strengthen training, academic networking and capacity building across complementary disciplines of toxicology research.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Funding opportunities

Search for current funding opportunities.

The Molecular and Cellular Medicine Board (MCMB) has identified key challenges that can only be met with a more integrated approach across our portfolio. These form current board opportunity areas, which the MCMB will use to prioritise investments during funding discussions, together with the three cross-board opportunities. We encourage researchers to submit applications that focus on the following areas.

Understanding dynamic biological systems

MCMB is keen to support research that applies state-of-the-art technologies, quantitative analytical tools and systems approaches to understand complex and dynamic biology at different scales in health and disease. For example, genotype-to-phenotype, single cells, tissue, organism (including human and model systems).

This includes:

  • improved approaches to image across scales (bi-directional studies from molecular or structure-function, macromolecular, cellular, and physiology or in vivo)
  • improved experimental systems (cell, tissue, animal models), including tissue models that go beyond current approaches and introduce stroma, connective tissue, vasculature
  • using bioinformatics, mathematics, machine learning, and computational modelling to analyse biological systems, and understand biological complexity and pathological readouts
  • applying these approaches and this knowledge to develop gene or cell therapies and cell or tissue engineering systems biology for discovering drug targets or to validate, develop and understand drug action, toxicology and resistance mechanisms.

Exposures, biological mechanisms and disease

Understanding the causal links between current and emerging environmental exposure threats (for example, air pollution, chemicals, nanoparticles, mixtures) and human disease is a priority for the MRC. A deep mechanistic understanding of biological targets and pathways (such as molecular initiating events, cellular stress responses, adverse outcome pathways) is required to build on the evidence of identified risks from epidemiological studies. This includes linking specific exposures to toxicity and disease – this relates to all types of exposures from environmental (for example, air, particulates, noise) to medicines. Advances in our understanding of radiation biology in the context of cancer continue to be a priority for MRC under this board opportunity.

MCMB is keen to see applications that tackle these challenges, including:

  • exploring the causal relationships and mechanistic pathways linking toxic exposures and adverse outcomes
  • analysing multidimensional data to study insults and the molecular, cellular or physiological readouts to disease, and the influence of genotype
  • developing computational models and experimental challenge systems to study exposures, biological effects and causal pathways
  • establishing robust translational pathways to policy, clinical setting and industry
  • biological effects of radiation exposure on normal and malignant tissues at the molecular, cellular, tissue and organ levels.

MCMB is happy to consider joint funding with Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in areas of common interest. If you wish to consider submitting an application in this area email graham.campbell@mrc.ukri.org.

In addition to board opportunities, MCMB will prioritise submissions that meet the criteria of MRC-wide opportunities, which apply to all boards. These are:

  • new investigator research grants – supporting researchers towards becoming independent investigators
  • experimental medicine – understanding disease mechanisms and therapeutic targets using human participants
  • advanced therapeutics – including cell/gene therapy, regenerative medicine, innovative medicines.

National facilities and resources

Find details of the institutes, units and centres we fund.

As well as supporting medically relevant research across the full spectrum of basic molecular and cellular sciences, the MCMB has a role in identifying and delivering generic infrastructures. These include:

Diamond Light Source: UK national synchrotron facility which generates beams of light, from infra-red to x-rays, which are used in a wide range of applications, from structural biology through fundamental physics and chemistry to cultural heritage.

Electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC): a national facility for electron microscopy as part of the I14 beamline end station at Diamond Light Source. eBIC provides access to state-of-the-art experimental equipment and expertise in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) and enables single particle analysis of biological macromolecules.

European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI): EBI is part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). EBI is a centre for research and services in bioinformatics, managing databases of biological data including nucleic acid, protein sequences and macromolecular structures.

Genomics England: the main pillar of the government’s strategy to sequence 100,000 human genomes, providing an internationally unique national resource for researchers to explore the relationship between genotype and phenotype in health and disease.

Human Developmental Biology Resource: provides tissue resources to researchers studying early human development.

Instruct-ERIC: a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) whose goal is to promote integrated structural biology research and support access to cutting-edge technologies across Europe.

Mary Lyon Centre: the national facility for mouse functional genomics, providing world-class expertise, tools and space to generate mouse models of human disease. The Mary Lyon Centre also delivers mouse models for the academic research community through the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC) and Genome-Editing Mice for Medicine (GEMM) initiative.

MRC Biomedical NMR Centre: a national facility based at the Francis Crick Institute where UK researchers can access spectrometers for liquid-state NMR studies of biological macromolecules.

Research Complex at Harwell: provides research laboratory facilities for both life and physical science researchers conducting work at Diamond, the ISIS neutron facility, the Central Laser Facility and other shared facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory site, enabling researchers to work across disciplines and between areas of UK research excellence.

UK Biobank: a prospective cohort initiative of 500,000 people in the UK between the ages of 40 to 69 to investigate the effects of lifestyle, environment and genetics on health.

UK Stem Cell Bank: responsible for storing, characterising and supplying ethically-approved, quality-controlled stem cell lines for medical research and treatment.

Who to contact

Science contacts

Programme managers within each research board act as the primary knowledge holders. They also interact with the community within their research areas, and manage the peer review of associated applications.

Cell biology and developmental biology

Dr Holger Apitz, Programme Manager

Email: holger.apitz@mrc.ukri.org

Science areas:

  • cell biology (excluding neurobiology) underpinning our understanding of health and disease
  • developmental biology (excluding neurological development)
  • tools and technologies (including interdisciplinary technology development at the physical sciences interface)
  • general stem cell research
  • underpinning research into regenerative medicine and advanced therapeutics
  • cellular therapies.

Structural studies and biophysics

Dr Anne McGavigan, Programme Manager

Email: anne.mcgavigan@mrc.ukri.org

Science areas:

  • structural biology and biophysical approaches to understand biological function
  • medical bioinformatics (including biostatistics, computational biology and systems biology)
  • large multi-user research facilities
  • underpinning activities at the physical science interface with health.

Genomics, gene regulatory networks and synthetic biology

Dr Tim Cullingford, Programme Manager

Email: tim.cullingford@mrc.ukri.org

Science areas:

  • genetics, epigenetics and genomics underpinning our understanding of health and disease
  • haematology
  • synthetic biology.

Environmental health, pharmacology and toxicology

Dr Graham Campbell, Programme Manager

Email: graham.campbell@mrc.ukri.org

Science areas:

  • toxicology, including the study of causal pathways linking insult to adverse outcomes and pathology and the development and study of experimental challenge systems
  • pharmacology – understanding the mechanisms of drug action at molecular, cellular and systems levels to improve efficacy and targeting (including through stratification), and to minimise adverse or off-target effects
  • environmental exposures affecting health, including biomarkers of exposure and effect and associated biological pathways.

Cancer cell biology and haematology

Dr Kathryn Whitmore

Email: kathryn.whitmore@mrc.ukri.org

Science areas:

  • cancer cell biology (including molecular mechanisms involved in carcinogenesis, tumour metabolism, tumour heterogeneity, tumour microenvironment and metastasis)
  • genome damage and stability (in relation to the pre-disposition and development of cancer)
  • radiation biology (including use of cutting-edge technologies to explore underpinning mechanisms, integrative approaches to investigate the stroma, vasculature and host immunological responses to radiation)
  • haematology.

Cancer and oncology

Dr Mariana Delfino-Machin, Programme Manager

Email: mariana.delfino-machin@mrc.ukri.org

Science areas:

  • exploratory clinical cancer research, including biomarker identification and validation studies, patient stratification, early diagnosis, investigation of novel drugs, therapeutic targets and delivery approaches; pre-clinical development, and first-in-human studies
  • radiation oncology, including development of novel biological approaches from radioprotection to treatment of radiation toxicity
  • improvement of therapeutic effects of radiation, including through precision targeting and scheduling and dosing, combining radiation with drugs and biological agents, and developing biomarkers of response
  • cancer epidemiology including genetic and molecular epidemiology approaches into the aetiology of cancers.

UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP)

Sophie Mountcastle, Science Manager

Email: sophie.mountcastlee@mrc.ukri.org

Key contact for UKRMP hubs and projects and lead for UKRMP governance.

Other contacts

Multimodal research

Dr Charlotte Durkin, Head of Programme

Email: charlotte.durkin@mrc.ukri.org

Science areas include oversight of MCMB meetings and strategic lead for multimodal research – research integrating different modes and scales (molecules to cells, tissues, organs and physiological systems) of biomedical research and human disease.

Molecular and cellular medicine

Dr Megan Dowie, Head of Molecular and Cellular Medicine

Email: megan.dowie@mrc.ukri.org

Methodology and clinical research

MRC supports methodology research through the MRC-NIHR Better Methods, Better Research Programme.

Dr Rosalind Roberts, Programme Manager

Email: rosalind.roberts@mrc.ukri.org

General policy and eligibility enquiries

Research funding policy and delivery team

Email: rfpd@mrc.ukri.org

Specific MCMB enquiries

Email: mcmb@mrc.ukri.org

Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system Helpdesk

Email: JeSHelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone: 01793 444164

Peer review

Email: peerreview@mrc.ukri.org

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