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MRC/BBSRC systems immunology of the human life course

Systems biology describes the study of complex systems at various scales, with emphasis on how interactions between different components underlie the function of the system as a whole. A systems approach is typified by a combination of multiplex measurements and testing of computational models of complex processes to explain and predict biological phenomena. The approach must be iterative, combining cycles of theory, modeling, simulation, prediction and experiments. In systems immunology, these principles and approaches are applied to immune function in health and disease.


This funding opportunity has now closed and this information is for reference only. Deadline 27th June 2013.


Systems immunology is a powerful approach for the investigation of biological and clinical processes and can be used to explore such things as, but not limited to:

  • Promoting a life course perspective to research in order to better understand the changes in immune-competence and inflammatory processes throughout life;
  • Exploring natural protection to disease and degeneration, and understanding how resilience may be exploited for new interventions that ameliorate disease processes.
  • Using animal models, genetics, imaging and biological indicators, to understand disease processes and predispositions; and
  • Exploit fully the complexity and benefits of population-based data, and maximising the sharing and linkage of data.


The aim of this call is to study immunological processes and pathways, and how they change over the human life-course or under different human conditions in health and disease. This focus has been developed in order to encourage novel research that addresses immune function at any age, including the extremes of age (e.g. infancy and old age) or at key life changes (e.g. puberty or pregnancy), how immune function responds to challenge and environmental factors that may influence immune function, such as co-infection or socioeconomic circumstances. The call aims to promote the development of new methodologies or analytical tools to interrogate these immunological questions.



It is anticipated that models will include bottom-up analysis of basic immunology mechanisms using novel application of mathematical models, or top-down analysis of diseases in patient cohorts using multifactorial clinical data. Additionally component data to study novel aspects of immunological processes and pathways may be derived from a variety of cohort studies using currently available data and samples or after future sweeps of existing cohorts, possibly following the introduction of new measures or markers relevant to immunology. Additionally or alternatively, the data could be derived through genomic, transcriptomic, proteomics and metabolomics research. Animal models could also form an important component part of the iterative cycle of modeling, experimentation and refinement which constitute a systems approach.


The following examples are provided to give a flavour of the type of research which might be supported under the call:

  • multi-parameter ‘omics’ studies of individuals following vaccination in order to determine factors that correlate with optimal response
  • studies of immune function across the life course and correlations with appropriate clinical and physiological parameters
  • development of new methodologies or analytical tools within systems immunology
  • studies of infectious diseases and their interaction with the human immune system


The call will not prioritise a specific health status or disease area but instead applicants will be invited to submit applications that clearly describe and justify why systems immunology is appropriate for investigation at the current time. This justification should clearly articulate:


Challenge-led: Based around a substantial and clearly articulated gap in understanding. The nature of the immunological challenge and why a ‘systems’ approach is most appropriate at the current time.


Ambitious and/or innovative: Research programmes should address substantial, important medical or physiological questions. The anticipated funding range is £2-3m per award. Duration should be based on the programme needs, but 3-5 years would be normal.


Collaborations between disciplines, in particular immunological, informatics and modeling expertise. Applicants must demonstrate how multi-disciplinary teams will work together iteratively to address a particular systems-level process or pathway. Collaborations between institutions or with industry are also strongly encouraged, where this will add demonstrable value to the project.


Novel integrative and computational approaches to an immunoloical question must be employed but there must be a clear articulation of why this type of systems approach is the best approach to use. We would expect successful partnerships to make best use of existing resources and computing infrastructure, as well as MRC/charity/industry cohorts, sample collections, and bioinformatics and clinical informatics services. Applicants may work across Universities as well as the commercial sector.


Funding available

The MRC and has made £3m available towards the awards with up to £1m contribution from BBSRC, giving a total of £4m available.  In line with the above recommendations, the intended outcome is that the funders support 1 or 2 major programmes for a period of 3-5 years duration. This scale of investment would dictate that successful.



1. Outline Stage

Eligible applicants will be asked to submit outlines via JeS. An outline will constitute:

  • Outline proposal form
  • Outline case for support
  • CVs of co-applicants


2. Panel short-listing of applications

The Systems Immunology Panel will meet in March 2013 to assess and shortlist outlines. Shortlisted applicants will be provided with feedback and invited to submit full applications.


3. Full application

The deadline for full applications will be 4pm 27th June 2013.


4. Review

Full proposals will be sent out for international peer review. Reviewed proposals will be assessed by the Systems Immunology Panel. The assessment is likely to involve an interview stage for the shortlisted candidates in October 2013.


5. Decision

This Panel will make the final funding decisions.


Workshop report

Systems Immunology of the Human Life Course - 14 December 2012


Outline proposal form

To enter the first stage of the competition, you must first submit an outline application via Je-S, answering all mandatory sections. The following guidance will walk you through completing the outline application form, case for support, and the Je-S submission. Outlines must be received by MRC by 4pm on 28th February 2013. Successful outline applicants will then be invited to submit a full application. Details for completing the JeS portion of the form can be found under how to apply.


Applicants should complete all mandatory fields (according to applicants handbook):

  • Organisation
  • Project title
  • Applicants (including co-applicants)
  • Objectives
  • Impact Summary
  • Summary


Outline case for support

Applicants should complete the outline case for support as described below and then submit this as a PDF to your Je-S application. The outline case for support must be no more than 4 pages including references using Arial 11pt typeface.


Please ensure all required information is included as the Panel will be assessing outlines based on these criteria.


Applicants must use the following headings:

Nature and importance of the challenge that will be addressed

  • Outline the challenge that you would like to address based around a substantial and clearly articulated gap in understanding.
  • What are the questions that you will answer in addressing this challenge?
  • Explain the need for the research and how the research will further our understanding of the challenge set.


Why a systems approach is appropriate

  • Broadly describe your research plan and explain the rationale for the line of research you plan to pursue.
  • Explain the study design and the experimental approaches and techniques that will be used.
  • Explain the advantages a systems approach offers in addressing these questions, compared to using alternative approaches.


How the teams will work together and integrate

  • Name individual co-investigators and collaborators and outline the role they will play in the Research Consortia. There is an expectation that Research Consortia will comprise immunology expertise, preferably with a demonstrable track record of programme-scale leadership, and lead or co-investigators with expertise in informatics or modeling.
  • Explain how the applicants and collaborators are well qualified to carry out the proposed research.
  • Describe the research environment(s) in which the research would take place and how it is suited to supporting the proposed work.


Contribution towards development of expertise in systems immunology

  • Explain the added value the research will bring to the UK’s current expertise in systems immunology.
  • Explain how your research plan integrates with, and capitalise upon our current systems immunology knowledgebase.


CVs and list of publications

CVs should be a maximum of 3 sides of A4, with 2 pages dedicated to the CV and the third page as a list of publications. Further details of CVs can be found in the applicants handbook.



This call will be overseen by a multidisciplinary Systems Immunology Panel Chaired by Professor Paul Moss (University of Birmingham, MRC Infections and Immunity Board Deputy Chair) and comprise of senior independent academics, and representatives of MRC Boards and BBSRC representatives. This Panel will assess the outline applications according to the criteria below.


Full proposals will be sent out for international peer review and be assessed by the Systems Immunology Panel which will make the final funding decisions. The Panel maybe expanded with additional expertise if required.


Assessment criteria

  • Question: Does the proposal address an important, clearly-articulated and tractable gap in understanding?
  • Challenge: Is the challenge sufficiently ambitious and demanding to warrant funding through this scheme rather project grant support?
  • Strategy: Is an appropriate scientific strategy presented to address the challenge? Have the investigators demonstrated a systems approach is suitable, the correct approach is being used and that this approach will deliver new insights into the immunological questions being addressed?
  • Collaborations: What is the strength of the assembled team? Have the applicants demonstrated strong multidisciplinary approaches?
  • Infrastructure: Is the required infrastructure (computational, clinical etc) in place? Do the applicants plan to make use of BRC/Us, CRFs, patient cohorts or other established infrastructure?
  • Added value: Have the applicants demonstrated the added value of this plan on existing investments in the groups. Is additional value added through collaborations with industry and/or other HEIs?


Expectations and reporting requirements

Institutions will be required to report annually to the MRC on the projects awarded and their funding outcomes. The Systems Immunology Panel will meet annually to assess and advise upon the progress of consortia.


Who can apply?

The Principal Investigator must be a UK-based researcher at an eligible institution (although Co-Investigators on the application can be international), or at an overseas establishment supported by the MRC.


There is an expectation that Research Consortia will comprise immunology expertise, preferably with a demonstrable track record of programme-scale leadership, and lead or Co-Investigators with expertise in informatics or modeling.


Eligible organisations fall into four categories:

Higher Education Institutions

All UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in receipt of HEFCE funding are eligible to apply.


Independent Research Organisations

A number of Independent Research organisations (IROs) are also eligible to apply for funding. A full list of IROs and the application process to become an IRO can be found on the RCUK website.


Government Funded Organisations (other than MRC funded Units and Institutes)

Government-funded organisations such as HPA or the Met Office can apply for MRC funding ONLY as a co-applicant or project partner.


Research Council (BBSRC/MRC) Units/Institutes

As this is a managed call MRC and BBSRC Units/Institutes can apply. Please see eligibility for research council funding on the RCUK website for further details.


How to apply

For the outline stage you will need to submit:

  • Outline proposal form
  • Outline case for support
  • CVs and publications of co-applicants


You should submit your proposal using the Research Councils’ Joint electronic Submission (Je-S) System. Proposals submitted against this call must be costed with Full Economic Costing.


Review the frequently asked questions for additional guidance.


When adding a new proposal to Je-S, you should select:

  • Select New Document
  • Under ‘Select Council’ select MRC
  • Under ‘Select Document Type’ select Outline Proposal
  • Under ‘Select Scheme’ select Standard Outline
  • Under ‘Call Type’ select “Systems Immunology”


Note that clicking ‘submit document’ on your proposal form in Je-S initially submits the proposal to your host organisation’s administration, not to MRC. Please ensure you allow sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the call closing date. MRC must receive your application by 4pm on 28th February 2013.


Key dates: 2013

28th February - Deadline for submission of outlines

Mid March - Panel meeting and decision on outlines

27th June - Deadline for full applications

October - Panel meeting, interviews and decision on full applications




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