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Bioscience for health

Overview

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

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 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.

BBSRC's vision for research and innovation in Bioscience for Health is set out in a Strategic Framework, available in the download section. The Framework aims to add detail to BBSRC's overarching Strategic Plan, outlining key expected contributions to the wider health research landscape and guiding BBSRC activities within this priority area over the next five years.

Four key challenge areas are:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 lifecourse
  3. 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 well-being of animals and people in their environment
  4. Biotechnology for Health
    Development of enabling biotechnology and innovative approaches to support the translation of basic bioscience

Systems and multidisciplinary approaches will be crucial to unpicking the complexity of these relationships

BBSRC’s role in Food, Nutrition and Health research and innovation is outlined in more detail in a topic-specific Strategic Framework, published in March 2015 and available in the download section. 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 (also available to download).

Drivers

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 for longer, whilst 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 are having significant impacts on health. Diets, physical and social behaviours and living/working environments have profound implications for health, with long-term and transgenerational consequences. We need a deeper understanding of healthy function across the lifecourse 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 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 R&D and manufacturing activities, contributing significantly to economic growth.

Delivery

The Bioscience for Health priority is delivered through Responsive Mode grants, topic-specific initiatives, cross-Research Council programmes, and industrial and international collaborations.

The Responsive Mode Strategic Priorities in Healthy ageing across the lifecourse, Food, Nutrition and Health and Animal Health are of particular relevance to Bioscience for Health:

  • Healthy ageing across the lifecourse promotes research that will increase our understanding of the biology of normal healthy ageing, leading to strategies for improving lifelong health and wellbeing.
  • Food, Nutrition and Health 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.
  • Animal Health 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.

The Combatting Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) and Replacement, refinement and reduction (3Rs) in research using animals Responsive Mode Strategic Priorities span a number of areas of the Strategic Plan, but have particular relevance for Bioscience for Health.

  • Combatting AMR promotes a wide range of research aimed at combatting AMR, and research that underpins the development of strategies to mitigate the effects, e.g., through novel alternative to antimicrobials.
  • Replacement, refinement and reduction (3Rs) in research using animals in the context of Bioscience for Health encourages opportunities to develop and use new models and research approaches (e.g. human cohort, in vitro and in silico approaches) that could reduce the use of animals in research and provide more effective and representative research tools for studying human and animal biology.

BBSRC supports a range of topic-specific initiatives and highlights through which research relevant to Bioscience for Health is delivered. Recent examples include:

  • Responsive Mode highlight in collaboration with the charity Action on Hearing Loss to encourage research into development and ageing of the auditory system
  • Joint BBSRC/ MRC call on Systems Immunology of the Human Lifecourse
  • Support for UK researchers to participate in the European Space Agency's call using bedrest as an analogue for ageing
  • Joint BBSRC/ESRC initiative on epigenetics
  • Support for ongoing activities within the cross-Council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme, such as therenewal of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (University of Edinburgh) and the Centre for Ageing and Vitality (Newcastle University); and Promoting Physical Activity in Older Age initiative projects.

Industrial collaboration in Bioscience for Health is promoted through a range of research and technology clubs, networks and platforms. Recent and 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
  • 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 (in collaboration with MRC and EPSRC), which is funding five hubs to address the technical and scientific challenges associated with translating scientific discoveries towards clinical impact

Recent and ongoing activities to promote international collaboration in Bioscience for Health include:

  • Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Disease (EEID) call, supporting research into the ecological transmission dynamics of infectious diseases in partnership with the National Science Foundation
  • Animal Health and Disease & Veterinary Immune Reagent Call in collaboration with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), U.S. 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 RCs, DFID and DSTL programme 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 lifecourse
  • European research call in Intestinal Microbiomics (joint 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.

Looking ahead

The Bioscience for Health priority will continue to be delivered through Responsive Mode Strategic Priorities, topic-specific initiatives, cross-Council Programmes and industrial and international collaboration. Specific activities under development include:

  • Development of research co-ordination in One health through international activities at European and wider scales, including ZELS, ANIHWA ERA-Net, and STAR-IDAZ Global Network
  • Strategic focuses on Complex Microbial Communities for the 2015/16 sLoLa call
  • Launch of a UK Veterinary Vaccinology Research Network and the BBSRC Veterinary Vaccinology Strategy
  • A Responsive Mode 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