Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Neurosciences and mental health

This board supports research into disorders of the human nervous system, addressing challenges such as mental illness, and exploring the study of brain tissue.

Duration:
Ongoing
Partners involved:
Medical Research Council (MRC)

The scope and what we're doing

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.

Mental health

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.

Neurodegeneration

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.

Global health

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
  • addiction
  • neuroimaging
  • 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:

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 6 weeks before the outline submission deadline.

Why we're doing it

We support strategic institutes, units and centres and work with key external stakeholders to deliver our strategy so that we can effectively carry out a broad range of activities across the field of neurosciences and mental health.

We work with other research councils, biomedical research charities, international funders or industrial partners including:

Opportunities, support and resources available

Funding opportunities

Closing date: This ongoing scheme.

Both broad guidance on assessment criteria and governance, and specific guidance on preparation of proposals, are available within each of the four neurosciences and mental health funding opportunities.

Resources

Medical imaging technology

Who to contact

Cognition and neurodevelopmental disorders

Cognitive systems and development, behavioural neuroscience, developmental neurobiology, and neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism.

Dr Charlotte Inchley, Programme Manager

Email: charlotte.inchley@mrc.ukri.org

Neuronal function

Basic neurobiology and neurophysiology (with potential relevance to disease), synaptic plasticity, computational neuroscience and neuro-informatics.

Currently vacant

Email: nmhb@mrc.ukri.org

Neurodegeneration and stroke

Neurodegeneration, stroke and brain and tissue banking.

Ms Natasha Jardine, Programme Manager

Email: natasha.jardine@mrc.ukri.org

Pain, addiction and neurological disorders

Pain, addiction, fatigue, neurological disorders (including epilepsy and neuromuscular disorders), spinal cord injury and repair.

Dr Siv Vingill, Programme Manager

Email: siv.vingill@mrc.ukri.org

Sensory neuroscience

Vision, hearing disorders, neuroimaging, neurotechnologies.

Currently vacant

Email: nmhb@mrc.ukri.org

Mental health

Mental health (including clinical, developmental, genetic and neuropharmacological aspects), clinical psychology, neuro-inflammation as pertaining to mental health.

Ms Victoria Swann, Programme Manager

Email: victoria.swann@mrc.ukri.org

Head of programme

Dr David Pan, Strategic lead for mental health research and operational lead for the Neurosciences and Mental Health Board

Email: david.pan@mrc.ukri.org

Head of neurosciences and mental health

Dr Jo Latimer

Email: joanna.latimer@mrc.ukri.org

Better methods, better research

MRC supports methodology research through the MRC-Neurosciences and Mental Health Board methodology research programme.

Dr Rosalind Roberts, Programme Manager

Email: rosalind.roberts@mrc.ukri.org

General policy and eligibility enquiries

Specific NMHB enquiries

Email: NMHB@mrc.ukri.org

Research funding policy and delivery team

For general enquiries about MRC policy and eligibility

Email: rfpd@mrc.ukri.org

Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system

Je-S helpdesk

Email: jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone: 01793 444164

Peer review

If you have a query about the peer review of a research proposal, either as an applicant, reviewer or board or panel member.

Email: peerreview@mrc.ukri.org

Last updated: 31 October 2022

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