MRC Impact Prize


MRC Impact Prize 2023 finalists

Early Career Impact

Towards an equitable, continuous celebration for postdocs during UK National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week

Lead nominee: Dr Joan Chang, Research Fellow at The University of Manchester

Early career research staff, commonly known as postdocs, are vital to the success of research and innovation in UK universities. Without postdocs we would not have research impact, but their hard work often goes under the radar.

Dr Joan Chang launched the UK National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week flagship event, a free online event. It was created to ensure all postdocs, regardless of their background, personal circumstances or employment, are recognised for their valuable contribution to university life and wider society.

Impacting the public’s understanding of cognitive skills in childhood associated with eating disorder symptoms in adolescence

Lead nominees: Dr Amy Harrison, Associate Professor in Psychology and Dr Marta Francesconi, Lecturer in Psychology at University College London (UCL)

Research led by Dr Amy Harrison and Dr Marta Francesconi has significantly impacted the ways in which eating disorders are understood by the public. It led to the development of universal primary prevention tools for these severe mental illnesses, benefitting thousands of young people and their families.

Eating disorders are highly stigmatised by those who experience their symptoms, by their health carers and by the public, who report significant misunderstandings about the causes and nature of eating disorders. This prevents people from seeking help and hinders their recovery. However, this research has influenced new ways of understanding eating disorders that consider biological factors.

INTER-NDA: an open-source international toolkit for simplified, rapid identification of children with developmental delay at age two years

Lead nominee: Dr Michelle Fernandes, Research Fellow, Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health (NDWRH) and the Oxford Maternal and Perinatal Health Institute (OMPHI) at University of Oxford

Worldwide, approximately 350 million children under five years of age are at risk of early neurodevelopmental delays (ENDs). ENDs are associated with poorer educational, economic and health outcomes across the lifecourse.

Within the context of the INTER-NDA project, Dr Michelle Fernandes led the construction, validation and dissemination of a novel, low-cost, international toolkit for the simplified and rapid identification of ENDs risk by non-specialist assessors. The INTER-NDA toolkit is an important and transformational advancement in global child health. It presents a scientifically robust, logistically simple, low-cost solution to identifying children at risk of ENDs.

Open Science Impact

Collaborative approach to meta-analysis and review of animal data from experimental studies (CAMARADES): open tools to promote open science

Lead nominee: Professor Malcolm Macleod on behalf of the CAMARADES group at University of Edinburgh

Progress rarely depends on a single research breakthrough but rather on the synthesis of emerging findings from several publications. The CAMARADES group has pioneered the development of freely available tools for research synthesis in preclinical research.

In their implementation, these tools are designed to support open science practices. The commitment to openness extends to related group activities, including their role in the University of Edinburgh research culture surveys and the publication of the datasets describing survey responses.

COVID-19 variant biology and implications for vaccine responses

Lead nominee: Professor Ravindra Gupta, Professor of Clinical Microbiology at University of Cambridge

During COVID-19, Professor Ravindra Gupta reported the first clinical evaluation of rapid testing for SARS-CoV-2 genetic material (SAMBA II) that led to rapid adoption of this technology across the UK in hospitals, prisons and schools.

He was also the first to report that new variants were likely arising in people whose immune systems were not working properly and who had a long-term COVID-19 infection. This work involved using sequences from the MRC-funded COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, and he further leveraged this resource to report key biological features of the Alpha variant and how effective vaccination was likely to be. His work was made publicly available at the earliest opportunity and fed into UK government groups such as the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group.

Most recently, he demonstrated the biological basis for Omicron leading to milder disease and these results were also openly available at the earliest opportunity.


Lead nominee: Professor Ben Goldacre, Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science at University of Oxford

Researchers often analyse large volumes of patients’ medical records. This data is powerful, but also challenging. It contains sensitive confidential information on everyone and is very difficult to process. The OpenSAFELY platform was developed during COVID-19 to provide researchers with access to the GP records of England’s 58 million citizens.

The team also created new working methods that make modern, open science the automatic default. Researchers can only run analyses in OpenSAFELY by first posting their programmes on a code-sharing website. All code run in the platform is logged, in public, so any misuse or ‘fishing expeditions’ would be visible to the entire research community.

Lastly, all code for data preparation is standardised. It’s easy for other users to read, understand, evaluate, amend or reuse. Now, hundreds of researchers from 22 institutions use OpenSAFELY. It has delivered critical research in major journals like Nature, Lancet and BMJ.

Outstanding Team Impact

Equitable global cooperation to support the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)

Lead nominee: Professor Paul Denny, Professor of Biosciences and Chemistry and Director of the Centre for Global Infectious Diseases at Durham University

NTDs affect around one in six people worldwide, mostly from the poorest communities of the ‘global south.’ The MRC Global Challenges Research Fund-funded Global Network for NTDs brought together over 500 researchers from 13 institutes around the world, via new collaborative research teams focused on leishmaniasis and Chagas disease.

The network sought to democratise and decolonise the field, through growing laboratory research capacity and expertise in endemic countries across Asia and South America. It has made significant scientific advances. Moreover, its cross-disciplinary partnerships between endemic country scientists have demonstrated globally equitable working practices. This exemplar brought in and influenced private sector collaborators, revealing the network’s most tangible legacy and impact.

Autism innovative medicine studies: improving health outcomes for autistic people

Lead nominee: Professor Declan Murphy, Professor of Translational Neurodevelopment and Director of the Institute of Translational Neurodevelopment, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London

MRC Autism Imaging Multicentre Study (AIMS), European Autism Interventions-A Multicenter Study for Developing New Medications (EU-AIMS) and Autism Innovative Medicines Studies-2-Trials (AIMS-2-TRIALS) are three linked consortia that have:

  • carried out ground-breaking autism research
  • impacted EU and North American health policy
  • identified and tested new clinical treatments and products
  • launched international databases to advance open science

The team comprises leading European experts in:

  • basic science
  • child development
  • psychiatry
  • neuroimaging
  • immune or metabolic functions
  • genetics

They established a worldwide and unique multidisciplinary longitudinal research platform. The platform comprises over 2,000 individuals from infancy to adulthood in the EU and 7,000 in South Africa to discover biomarkers (for early detection, prognosis and treatment prediction) and characterise individual profiles.

Post-hospitalisation COVID-19 (PHOSP-COVID) study

Lead nominees: Professor Chris Brightling, Dr Rachael Evans and Professor Louise Wain at University of Leicester

COVID-19 has led to severe illness, hospitalisation, and many deaths. During the early urgent response phase, the team predicted that some people suffering from acute COVID-19 would suffer from ongoing physical and mental health problems.

To address this, the PHOSP-COVID study was launched in April 2020. Within five months, it had established a national consortium and research platform to understand and improve long-term outcomes for survivors following hospitalisation.

Recognising that the effects of COVID-19 extended beyond the lungs and appreciating the pressure on clinical services, PHOSP-COVID adopted a whole-person approach to data collection. Research activities were aligned to clinical follow-up visits to minimise the burden on participants and clinicians. The study recruited more than 7,000 people and the resulting research has highlighted large ongoing health impairments and provided insight into the possible biological mechanisms underpinning Long COVID.

Two clinical trials of treatments for Long COVID are now underway.

Last updated: 7 March 2024

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