Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) provides research funding to improve health and wellbeing across the life course, to reduce the need for medical and social intervention.

Partners involved:
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Medical Research Council (MRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Through Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health, BBSRC provides sustained research investment to improve health and wellbeing across the life course, reducing the need for medical and social intervention.

Read the Forward look for UK bioscience brochure, our roadmap setting the direction of travel for UK bioscience and is an opportunity to address some of the 21st century’s greatest challenges to provide food security, clean growth and healthy ageing.

Our vision for research and innovation in this area is set out in a Bioscience for Health: Strategic Research Framework 2015 to 2020. This adds detail to our overarching strategic plan, outlining key expected contributions to the wider health research landscape and guiding BBSRC activities within this priority area.

Key challenge areas

There are four key challenge areas. Systems and multidisciplinary approaches will be crucial to unpicking the complexity of these relationships.

Lifelong health

Understanding the mechanistic basis of lifespan and healthy ageing using human, microbial and animal systems, with the long-term objective of promoting health in later life.

Nutrition for health

Understanding how foods, nutrients and whole diets influence cellular processes, how these influences affect overall health outcomes, and how responses vary between population groups, individuals and across the life course.

One health

Collaborative and coordinated approaches to combat infectious diseases of zoonotic origin drawing on a common pool of scientific knowledge from multiple disciplines to improve the health and wellbeing of animals and people in their environment.

Biotechnology for health

Development of enabling biotechnology and innovative approaches to support the translation of basic bioscience.

Food, nutrition and health

BBSRC’s role in food, nutrition and health research and innovation is outlined in more detail in a topic-specific Strategic Framework 2015 to 2020.

The document sits alongside a complementary joint BBSRC, MRC and ESRC high-level vision, which recognises the importance of collaboration to support integrative research in this area.

Strategic priorities and their relevance

These standard research strategic priorities are of particular relevance to Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health.

Healthy ageing across the life course

This research priority promotes research that will increase our understanding of the biology of normal healthy ageing, leading to strategies for improving lifelong health and wellbeing.

Find out more about the Healthy Ageing Across the Life Course research priority.

Food, nutrition and health

This research priority promotes research which will advance understanding of how nutrients, foods and whole diets interact with biological systems to promote health. The research priority also incorporates consideration of food safety and healthy food production.

Find out more about the Food, Nutrition and Health research priority.

Animal health

This research priority promotes research that will lead to the development of strategies to combat endemic and exotic infectious diseases that reduce the health and welfare of domesticated animals important to the UK economy. It has strong synergies with strategic priorities in agriculture and food security.

Find out more about the Animal Health research priority.

The following standard research strategic priorities span a number of areas of the Strategic Plan, but have particular relevance for Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health.

Combatting antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

This research priority promotes a wide range of research aimed at combatting AMR. It also promotes research that underpins the development of strategies to mitigate the effects, for example through novel alternatives to antimicrobials.

Find out more about AMR research priority.

Replacement, refinement and reduction (3Rs)

The 3Rs in research using animals in the context of Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health encourage opportunities to develop and use new models and research approaches that could reduce the use of animals in research and provide more effective and representative research tools for studying human and animal biology. Examples include human cohort, in vitro and in silico approaches.

Find out more about 3Rs in research using animals.

Why we're doing it

Fundamental bioscience is vital to revealing the mechanisms underlying normal physiology and homeostatic control during early development and across the lifespan into old age.

The Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health priority aims to achieve a deep, integrated understanding of the healthy system at multiple levels, and of the factors that maintain health and wellness under stress and biological or environmental challenge.

There are four main drivers.

An ageing population

The UK has an ageing population, but average healthspan is not extending at the same rate as lifespan.

Advances in medicine and public health mean that people are living longer, while demographic drivers are increasing the proportion of older people in the UK population. However, a significant proportion of that increased lifespan is spent in a prolonged state of declining health and wellbeing. Those in later life are spending longer living with chronic medical conditions, reduced independence and in need of care, all of which place increasing pressure on medical, health and social services.

There is a pressing social and economic need for bioscience research to generate new knowledge and tools which will extend health and independence, reducing reliance on medical interventions.

Changing lifestyles

Changing lifestyles are having significant impacts on health. Diets, physical and social behaviours, and living and working environments have profound implications for health, with long-term and transgenerational consequences. We need a deeper understanding of healthy function across the life course in order to fully understand the biological challenges posed by modern lifestyles.

Such understanding, allied to social science that seeks to understand and influence behaviours, will bring improved information, products and social systems to benefit long-term health outcomes.


Globalisation presents specific and urgent health challenges in zoonotic and antimicrobial resistance.

Globalisation has increased the speed and threat of emerging infectious zoonoses and vector-borne diseases of animals and humans, with significant socioeconomic, health and welfare implications.

A better understanding of the epidemiology and pathogenicity of emerging and re-emerging zoonoses will improve diagnosis and inform the development of novel tools for effective intervention.

The scale and spread of broad-spectrum antimicrobial resistance also demands fundamental research to understand its development and propagation, and underpin the development of innovative tools to combat microbial infections.

Bioscience generates socioeconomic benefits

Bioscience has a key underpinning role in generating a wide range of socioeconomic benefits for the UK. The flow of cutting edge knowledge and research skills between academia and industry will be essential to foster innovation in research intensive sectors such as food production, healthcare, pharma and consumer goods.

Industrial innovation based on productive integration with the research base will be crucial to the UK’s appeal for commercial research and development and manufacturing activities, contributing significantly to economic growth.

Opportunities, support and resources available

The Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health priority is delivered through standard research grants, topic-specific initiatives, cross-research council programmes, and industrial and international collaborations.

Standard (sometimes known as ‘responsive’) funding opportunities are open to a wide range of research and approaches within BBSRC’s remit.

You can apply at any time under this scheme.

Find out more about applying for funding, what to include in your application, and animal use in research.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

BBSRC has supported a range of topic-specific initiatives and highlights through which research relevant to Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health was delivered, including:

    • standard research opportunities in collaboration with the charity Action on Hearing Loss to encourage research into development and ageing of the auditory system
    • joint BBSRC and the Medical Research Council (MRC) funding opportunity on Systems Immunology of the Human Life Course
    • support for UK researchers to participate in the European Space Agency’s funding opportunity using bedrest as an analogue for ageing
    • joint BBSRC and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) initiative on epigenetics
    • support for ongoing activities within the cross-council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme, such as the renewal of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (The University of Edinburgh), the Centre for Ageing and Vitality (Newcastle University), and Promoting Physical Activity in Older Age initiative projects.
    • survey and working group on the use of models in research to better understand the area and ensure that the health of the discipline is maintained and opportunities for improvements found. (View PDF report)

Industrial collaboration

Industrial collaboration in Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health is promoted through a range of research and technology clubs, networks and platforms.

Ongoing activities include:

  • Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC), which supports research which will help the food industry develop products that deliver enhanced health benefits for consumers – this ends in 2021
  • Animal Health Research Club (ARC), which supports research that improves our understanding of resistance to pests and diseases in farmed animals
  • UK Regenerative Medicine Platform which is funding five hubs to address the technical and scientific challenges associated with translating scientific discoveries towards clinical impact. BBSRC is working in collaboration with MRC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) on this initiative.

International collaboration

Previous activities to promote international collaboration in Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health include:

  • Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Disease (EEID) funding opportunity, supporting research into the ecological transmission dynamics of infectious diseases, in partnership with the National Science Foundation
  • Animal Health and Disease and Veterinary Immune Reagent funding opportunity, in collaboration with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Animal Health to leverage fiscal, physical and intellectual resources to facilitate coordinated research that addresses high impact diseases and animal health issues relevant to stakeholders in both countries
  • Zoonoses and Emerging Livestock Systems – a joint research councils, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) programme that aims to reduce the impact of zoonoses on poor people and their livestock
  • collaborative awards with the National Institute on Aging (NIA) on the biology of ageing
  • High Priority Behaviour and Social Research Networks with NIA and ESRC to support the development of interdisciplinary areas of biological, behavioural and social research of relevance to ageing
  • collaborative awards with the ERA-Net ERA-AGE 2 on active and healthy ageing across the life course
  • European research funding opportunity in intestinal microbiomics (jointly, with MRC), run through the Healthy Diet Healthy Life Joint Programming Initiative and supporting transnational consortia using a mechanistic approach to investigate causal relationships between diet, intestinal microbiota and health.

The Bioscience for Health priority will continue to be delivered through standard funding opportunity strategic priorities, topic-specific initiatives, cross-council programmes and industrial and international collaboration.

Specific activities under development include:

  • development of research coordination in ‘One health’ through international activities at European and wider scales, including ZELS, ANIHWA ERA-Net, and STAR-IDAZ Global Network
  • launch of a UK Veterinary Vaccinology Research Network and the BBSRC Veterinary Vaccinology Strategy
  • a standard research opportunity highlight in mechanistic research in nutrition
    increased collaboration with other research councils and the food industry around research in food, nutrition and health
  • increased collaboration with the US in multidisciplinary epigenetics.

Who to contact

Iain Templeman


Governance, management and panels

The Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health Strategy Advisory Panel focuses on the fundamental bioscience research and innovation needed to improve human and animal health and wellbeing throughout the life-course.

Last updated: 26 February 2024

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