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UK Dementia Research Institute (DRI) - Call for DRI Centre proposals

Call timeline:
  • Launch date: Friday 16th December 2016
  • Closing date: Tuesday 7th February 2017, 16:00

This call is open only to applicants who previously submitted Expressions of Interest (see section on Eligibility below).

Jump to:

  1. Overview 
  2. Background and Rationale
  3. Structure and development of the DRI
  4. Context for centre applications
  5. Eligibility
  6. Scientific remit and what to include in the case
  7. Format for application
  8. Assessment 
  9. Key Dates
  10. Contact Details

1. Overview 

MRC and its founder charity partners, the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer's Research UK, are investing £250m to establish the UK Dementia Research Institute (DRI) in fulfilment of the Government’s 2020 Challenge on Dementia. Centered around the need for innovative, discovery science to unlock our understanding of the development and progression of the dementias, the DRI’s research will invigorate the therapeutic pipeline and drive new approaches to diagnosis, treatment, care provision and prevention.

The Institute is being structured as a hub and linked regional centres for optimal connection of existing capabilities within the UK research landscape and to engage emerging research opportunities. The location of the DRI Hub has recently been identified as University College London and the Director of the Hub, and the DRI overall, will be Professor Bart de Strooper.

Applications are now invited from UK universities with existing capability in neurodegeneration/ dementia research to establish the biomedical DRI Centres, as detailed in the following sections.  Applications will identify a local centre director, to be titled DRI Associate Director, and up to four additional PIs who will lead foundation programmes. Up to £6.5m programmatic resource will be available per centre over 5 years to initiate this DRI research activity, within which up to £1.5m will be available to support DRI Professors and £1m to support ‘rising stars’, to be known as DRI Fellows. In addition to this, up to £4m capital funding may be requested for equipment or refurbishment costs.

These 'foundation' awards will establish a number of DRI Centres, which will be expanded through two additional funding stages. A typical centre will reach a steady state of up to 10 research programmes within two years, led by either DRI professors or tenure-track DRI fellows and employing a cadre of post-doctoral researchers.

Institutions hosting DRI Centres will contribute direct financial support towards the DRI facilities (for refurbishment costs and major equipment), and provide academic positions to DRI professors as well as to DRI fellows successfully negotiating review after 5 years. It is expected that host universities will make additional posts/studentships available to help deliver the DRI mission as it develops, as well as administrative support for the centre Director and the DRI facilities.

  • General information can be found on the DRI page.

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2. Background and Rationale

Around 850,000 people in the UK have dementia and its incidence will continue to grow as the population ages, with the number of people affected projected to reach 2 million by 2051. There is currently no cure for any of the neurodegenerative conditions that give rise to dementia, which represents one of the toughest medical and economic challenges facing our society today.

The MRC, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer's Research UK are making a joint investment of £250m to create the UK Dementia Research Institute which will bring together world-leading expertise in biomedical, care, public health and translational dementia research. The new Institute will be catalytic for the UK's dementia research effort. It will connect to the momentum already created through the establishment of the MRC Dementias Platform UK and the NIHR Dementia Translational Research Collaboration, and will align to recent charity-led efforts in areas such as drug development and capacity building. The DRI will also proactively seek industry and international partners in delivering its mission.

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3. Structure and development of the DRI

The UK Dementia Research Institute (DRI) is being established as a single entity, based on a hub and centres model that spans several university sites. This first phase of identifying the DRI's location will focus on the biomedical research agenda of the DRI, with care and public health activity to be integrated two years into the DRI development.

Capital funding will be provided in support of the DRI development with a view to formal opening of a fully operational Institute by 2019. The DRI as a whole at steady state is expected to support up to 50 five year research programmes and 400 or more scientists. Up to 50% of the activity will operate at the hub. While the focus of this call is on the biomedical agenda, the DRI is to establish a centre dedicated to care research; plans for this will be publicised during the latter part of 2017.

Selection of the DRI’s constituent (hub and centre) biomedical research programmes will be undertaken in two phases, to be supported by a third, ‘growth’ phase.

  1. Foundation programmes for the centres will be established through this call.
  2. A follow-up ‘growth’ phase will be announced in April 2017 to allow centres to seek new programmes to extend the biomedical component of the DRI to the full core complement of activity. The expectation is that these programmes will recruit new science to the DRI, with half of the programmes to be led by ‘rising star’ fellows with clear potential to be future research leaders.  See diagram below.

Development of the DRI

  1. The Institute Director will have a budget available to supplement activity at the hub and centres with additional ‘growth’ funding to fill gaps, address emerging opportunities and establish strategically important partnerships. 
  2. Over the course of time, DRI Centres should expect to attract a halo of additional dementia-related funding support from other sources, along the lines of the existing MRC centre funding model.

It is projected that once this staged investment is complete, a typical DRI Centre will receive an award of between £18m and £24m over a five year period, spanning

  • Up to 10 programmes (5 professors, 5 fellows, with post-doctoral-level and/or technical or senior investigator support)
  •  A cadre of PhDs (typically up to 5 in total over 5 years, to be matched by the host)
  • Refurbishment of DRI lab space (contribution by the host)
  • An equipment budget (contribution by the host)
  • 50-60 core DRI staff overall.

The total investment in capital for refurbishment and/or equipment should be contributed to at 33% by the university (2:1 DRI: HEI ratio).

Budgetary provision will be subject to the governance arrangements for the DRI, and will be subject to quinquennial review. Unlike with standard university grant support however, the level of programmatic funding may be adjusted by the DRI Director according to the needs of the Institute as a whole, primarily through the level of provision of stage three 'growth' funding.  

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4. Context for centre applications

Expressions of Interest have already been received from eight UK universities identified as having a track record in internationally-competitive neurodegeneration and dementia-linked research, coupled to a strategic approach to growing capability in this area. These universities are now invited to submit full applications to become DRI Centres with a biomedical focus. Between three and five centres in total are likely to be selected in this call. The DRI's agenda for care research will be developed through a separate competition in 2018, which will establish a new, additional DRI Centre and/or supplement existing centres to support this capability.

Applications should build on the original expressions of interest and articulate a vision for developing world-leading dementia research at the host university in the context of the Institute Director’s own overarching vision for the DRI.  In support of this goal, HEIs should identify a local director for the proposed DRI Centre, who will be an Associate Director and may hold their own programme, together with up to four additional foundation programmes led by either DRI Professors or DRI Fellows (who will be ‘rising stars’ who are in the process of or have just completed their transition to independence). All should be research active at the host institution. These programmes may be for up to five years in duration.

The scientific programmes should be for new, cutting edge research within the DRI remit. An emphasis on multidisciplinary research is welcomed. In this foundation phase, funding is to be allocated in modules, with Professors expected to seek programmatic resource at a level of up to £1.5m over 5 years and for DRI Fellows at the level of up to £1m over 5 years. This would typically cover postdoctoral support, while technical posts might also be funded if essential for the support or development of sophisticated technological platforms.  DRI direct research costs will be fully covered, plus general support and services directly associated with the research programmes. Note that the DRI is an institute that is being established as a charitable company, and it will not use the FEC/TRAC costing system. Applications will need to follow the guidance on costings that is provided under ’Financial Information’ below.

Applications should ‘look beyond’ the present call and make reference to the entirety of the DRI strategic vision, and the potential for synergy with other investments that might provide significant opportunity for dementia research. An indicative projection of how and in what direction the centre might expand beyond the foundation programmes to steady state in five years’ time should be included. From April 2017, there will be a recruitment campaign through which centres will be invited to recruit a number of core programmes in the biomedical area, potentially doubling the number of DRI Professors and Fellows, primarily through external recruitment. Appointments under this second phase will receive modular 5 year programmatic support at the level of £3m for Professors and £1.5m for Fellows, to include 100% salary support for newly recruited programme leaders (subject to other time commitments).  

At steady state, the DRI will have a significant component of DRI Fellows coupled to an expectation for career progression within or beyond the DRI within a five to ten-year timeframe. As such, it is expected that DRI Fellows successfully completing review after 5 year will be offered tenure at the host university, with DRI core support subsequently being reduced as external grant funding is accumulated. In this way the DRI will be able to continually recruit new fellows to the shared benefit of the DRI and host institutions.

Throughout the first five years of operation of the DRI, in addition to the core programmes identified above, the DRI Director will have a budget available to supplement centres with additional ‘growth’ funding to enable expansion in light of emerging scientific opportunities, respond to a need to fill gaps that might be apparent at the Institute level, and develop or sustain strategically important partnerships with both academic and commercial groups. 

Finally, the application should state how the University will provide resources to support the mission of the DRI, in terms of suitable lab space to host the centre, access to existing facilities and the provision of academic and support posts. There are capital funds of up to £4m available as part of this call for refurbishment and/or to provide new major equipment. The total investment in capital for refurbishment and/or equipment should be contributed to at 33% by the university (2:1 DRI: HEI ratio).  This capital resource is in addition to the programmatic funding.

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5. Eligibility

Eligible HEIs will be invited to apply and on the basis of review of a previously submitted Expression of Interest.

This call is open only to HEIs that are recognized by MRC as centres of research activity with a national profile in neurodegeneration/dementias research, as identified by one or more of the following criteria:

  1. being in receipt of strategic funding from MRC Dementias Platform UK;
  2. being in receipt of funding through the NIHR Dementia Translational Research Collaboration ;
  3. hosting an MRC Unit or MRC centre with significant research activity in this area.

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6. Scientific remit and what to include in the case

6.1 Overview

The centre application should present a case for hosting new, cutting edge science within the DRI remit. Specifically the focus should be on the core biomedical/ neurodegenerative research element of the DRI.

An emphasis on multidisciplinary research is encouraged, as well as the incorporation of new insights into the dementia research field. Applications should be directly relevant to a number of the neurodegenerative diseases research that gives rise to dementias (covering Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Fronto-Temporal Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, Lewy Body Dementia, Huntington's disease, CJD etc) and will take a broad view to the scientific avenues that might provide insights in to the causes, progression, treatment, prevention and care of dementia.  In the foundation phase, the priority will be given to research focused on mechanisms, identification of drug targets and the improvement or creation of disease models that will help to bridge the gap between laboratory and clinic. The DRI will not support generic neuroscience or other research that is not of clear relevance to its mission. However, applications engaging basic neuroscientists or researchers in other disciplines wanting to reorient their research questions to relevant problems in neurodegenerative disease research are very much welcomed.

The centre bid should articulate the proposed director's own vision for progressing dementia research, in the context of the host university's own capabilities and taking account of the broader DRI vision. In doing so the bid should identify up to five internationally-leading research programmes that will form the foundation of the centre.  Universities should be specific as to how knowledge and infrastructure from the broader neuro- and biomedical sciences will be harnessed for dementias research at the centre.  The case to host DRI research activity as a centre should be based upon:

  • the quality of the proposed foundation programmes, including their future plans
  • the track record of dementia-related research currently undertaken at the university (which may include inflammatory, vascular, metabolic aspects, for example). Reference should be made to existing strategic funding in dementias research at or linked to university research and how the centre will interface with these investments.
  • the strategic approach to support and grow capability in such research in the future, for example identifying future investments that may directly contribute to or synergize with the DRI, and; the ability of the university to provide the necessary space and financial commitment to host the envisaged DRI research programmes in an environment where the science will flourish. It is anticipated that the university will provide administrative and facility management support to the centre Director.

The structure for the application is set out in the section below.

In terms of future growth of the centre, the DRI will provide supplementary funding to the centre through the staged approach as set out in the introduction. A cadre of DRI-hosted studentships will also be allocated to the centres, although this will be provided once the full complement of centre programmes has been recruited, and therefore not as part of this call. The expectation is that the DRI will fund at least 5 PhD students per centre per quinquennium, with this provision to be matched by the host institution.

In time DRI Centres are also expected to attract a halo of additional dementia-related funding support from other sources, along the lines of the existing MRC centre funding model. However, this does not need to be projected in the application.

6.2 The Centre (Associate) Director

The DRI centres will be fully integrated components of the Institute, which together with the hub will provide a cohesive set of research programmes and capabilities. This places certain responsibilities on the individuals who will become centre Directors. A significant element of the centre Director’s role will be to help ensure that the Institute is a success by taking personal responsibility for seamless collaboration and interaction of the centre's science and researchers with the activity at other DRI sites, while at the same time energizing a drive to create synergies in the local institutional environment. The centre Director will therefore be an individual who is able and willing to foster the very best science within the centre and beyond, and be a team player able to interact regularly and effectively with not only the DRI Director but also the directors of other centres for the good of the DRI as a whole.

The centre Director will also need to have the research stature to attract researchers from outside the host institution, and in many cases from overseas.  While it is considered likely that the centre Director will lead a research programme within the DRI, consideration will exceptionally be given to individuals whose research is not central to the proposed vision, provided a compelling leadership case can be presented.

Universities are encouraged to contact MRC to discuss plans in advance of submission if there are any uncertainties over remit or the content of the case.  

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7. Format for application

7.1 General

Applications should be submitted as a single, bookmarked pdf to the DRI mailbox: DRI@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk.

The application should be submitted as a single pdf document using a typeface of 11 pt Arial font, single spacing. Margins of 1.5cm should be used on all page borders. Pages should be numbered.   

The case to be submitted must be specific to this call, ie. based around neurodegeneration / dementia research and the establishment of the DRI.  Generic university information should not be included. To maintain a level playing field, applications which do not follow the specified format may be rejected without assessment.

The application should be presented as follows:

Cover Letter

Title: University of [Name]: Application to become a centre of the UK Dementia Research Institute.

Executive Summary: up to 400 words.

Part 1: Case for a DRI Centre (up to 4 sides) plus Annexes in the following order: a-f (see below)

Part 2: Cases for programmatic support (5 pages per individual research programme)

Part 3: Capital request in support of establishing the centre, covering plans for refurbishment and major equipment

7.2 Specific guidance

Cover Letter:  The cover letter (one side of A4) should include:

  • a statement of support from the host university
  • a summary of the attributes of the proposed centre, compatibility with the Director’s vision and complementarity with the hub
  • Confirmation that the Framework MoU covering the DRI principles that define the operation of the centre as part of the DRI has been signed.  Applications will not be accepted if the MoU has not been signed.

Part 1: Case for a DRI Centre at the University (4 sides). The case should be presented under the following headings:

a) Rationale for the centre

b) Centre Director’s vision of centre growth over the next 5 years (as supported by DRI, HEI and external funding)

c) Overview of the centre based on DRI-relevant sections of original EoI. To include: descriptions of the centre’s dementia-relevant scientific highlights; of the supporting environment; a statement on the bioresource and clinical facilities to which the DRI will have access; training capability and details of the space that the university will provide.

d) Justification for foundation stage DRI funding (overview, to encompass PI research plans and capital budget).

e) University support for DRI: i) confirmation that the request for capital will be contributed to at 33% by the university (2:1 DRI: HEI ratio), plus ii) details of any commitments for support posts (from academic positions to PhDs to lab/facility managers to administrative support).

f) Projection to steady state: Gantt chart or other diagrammatic projection of how the centre is expected to grow, and what steady state might look like at the five-year point.  

Part 2: Case for DRI programme support (each to be 5 sides).

There should be a minimum of 3 and no more than 5 programmes, spanning the future proposals and a mix of DRI Professors and DRI Fellows.

Each case for programme support should take the form of a four page research plan covering future, new activity, and including a justification for the resources requested, with a one page resume of current research activity and key past achievements. Resources can be requested up to the budget cap of £1.5m or £1m for professors/fellows respectively.  PIs can request salary support consistent with time to be spent on the award, up to a maximum of 50%. In terms of research staff to be supported on each DRI programme, this may include post-doctoral research assistants and technicians dedicated to specific needs within the programme. The bid may also exceptionally include posts at senior investigator level where high level expertise is required to support sophisticated technologies to be used by the centre's programmes, for example informatics or proteomics or microscopy. In all cases, up to 100% salary support may be requested, alongside the associated resources to undertake the proposed research. 

Note that:

  • A ‘programme’ is a coordinated and coherent group of related projects which may be to answer an inter­related set of questions on a broad format.
  • The programme should be for work requiring long term and extensive support.
  • The applicant’s track record of research should demonstrate their potential to successfully manage and deliver a major research programme.

Each case for programme support should be structured as follows:

  1. Current status of the field  / background to research direction and summary of future plans – one page
  2. Current research activity and key achievements - one page
  3. Future objectives  - half a side
  4. Experimental details - two sides
  5. Resource justification - half a side.
    Awards will be contingent on compliance with standard MRC policy for grant awards, including the use of animals, use of human tissue or participants etc.

Part 3: Case for capital investment to support the DRI Centre (4 sides), to include:

a) Request for refurbishment costs: The DRI Centre facility should in principle be available for up to 60 DRI staff by the beginning of 2019, and able to support initial programmes from mid-2017. The costs of refurbishing lab space to provide a high quality and visible research facility will be supported up to a cost of £2m DRI, with the university to contribute to any DRI contribution at a 33% rate. Should such funding be requested, estates plans should be provided in support of the proposed refurbishment, alongside project plans for implementation (including the decanting of existing staff as necessary) and a timeline for completion of the work. Exceptionally, additional capital contribution to the DRI facility may be considered, up to a maximum of £6m overall if clear potential for centre growth is presented including additional HEI support for DRI-associated posts.

b) Request for major equipment (items £10k and over): Up to £2m may be requested to be spent by 2018/19 which should specify the requirement in the context of the centre's research vision and existing capability. The requested equipment may be stand-alone or as part of an existing facility where expansion will provide the DRI with dedicated access.

Annexes:  Only the following annexes will be allowed:

  1. Schematic diagram: A single diagram to illustrate the local research landscape, identifying the relevant research groups/resources that might be connected to the proposed centre, and their locations within the University (one side of A4).
  2. One page CVs for Director and other potential DRI programme leaders, with five relevant key publications to be highlighted in each case. All to be accompanied by an appendix providing :
  • full publication list for the past 10 years
  • details of all grant support obtained in the past 5 years, plus abstracts for all live awards.
  1. Training capability: Half a side to be provided as assurance on the training environment available through or linked to the centre, with details of the numbers of PhDs/Fellows supported in this area over the past 5 years. Details are required of the policy for support of students, post-doctoral early-career researchers and facility technical experts who may be associated with the DRI. Note that training capability should be referenced briefly in the case for centre support but that DRI-hosted studentships will be allocated later to centres and not as part of this call. The expectation is for a cadre of at least 1 PhD student per annum, with this provision to be matched by HEIs.
  2. Clinical Research Facilities: For sites with such a facility, a brief summary of its capacity and current usage, and any case for its expansion and the capital requirement therein (one side of A4). For sites without such a facility, a case for establishing one may exceptionally be considered as part of the case.
  3. Financial information (see below).

Any additional diagrams, tables etc must be included within the body of the application.

7.3 Financial information

The financial information should be presented in a summary table (all requests, including capital) as well as separate tables for centre core support (Part 1 above) and for each programme requested (Part 2 above).  Capital resource requests should be detailed in a separate table (Part 3), however it should be made clear whether the requests relate to Part 1 or Part 2 as appropriate.  The request for MRC support will be shown side by side with the support to be offered by the University in the tables.  The tables to use are set out in the form supplied with this call.

Research programme costs are capped at £1.5m for Professors and £1m for Fellows. PIs can request salary support consistent with time to be spent on the award, up to a maximum of 50%. Direct science and science support and general support and services directly associated with the proposed research may be requested in full such that the full research costs are covered. However, note that these are to be calculated and justified individually based on the proposed DRI activity and should not be costed based on FEC/TRAC methodology.

Requests for capital funding may be made up to £4m in total, covering refurbishment costs (up to £2m) and major equipment items £10k and over (up to £2m).  

Exceptionally, a case may be made for additional capital contribution to a DRI-dedicated facility, up to a maximum of £4m extra, if clear potential for centre growth is presented.

Capital requests in both cases should be contributed to at 33% by the university (ie. a DRI/HEI investment ratio of 2:1).

The request for financial support should be presented under the following four categories as follows, making it clear what is being requested of the funders and what will be supported by the University:

  1. Direct Science - includes salaries of staff working on DRI science programmes, and directly related costs of consumables, travel and subcontracts
  2. Direct Science Support - includes directly attributable Science Support costs e.g. Computing costs, facility access charges, Research Support and Publication costs
  3. General Support & Services directly associated with delivery of DRI programmes - includes underpinning research management and support services (e.g. Research Support, Lab Management, Health & Safety & Technical services), building service costs (e.g. estates, utilities, cleaning, security), administration costs (e.g. personnel, finance, library and some purchased host departmental services)
  4. Capital – funding  requested for DRI Centre equipment (items £10k and above) and estates capital

The case for support should set the scene with a short, focussed, high level overview to link the DRI Centre science strategy with the funding.  The case should describe explicitly how the proposed capital spend will enable delivery of DRI Centre science.  In the information provided, Universities should be clear how funds have been allocated to each of the programmes.

Funding may be requested to ensure Open Access compliance over the lifetime of the centre.

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8. Assessment 

An independent review panel will assess the applications received and advise the funders. The candidate centre Director and VC/Dean Research for the HEI will be interviewed by a subgroup of the panel at least one week before the panel meeting.

Please note that, while future plans are requested, assessment will be primarily on track record. The following assessment criteria will be used, with the top three representing the most important criteria:

  1. The centre Director’s vision and the strategy for the centre.
  • How will it fit with the ambitions of the DRI?
  • Has the Director provided a clear scientific direction and identified important and achievable goals for the development of the key research themes within the centre for the next 5 years?
  1. Strength of proposed scientific programmes / PIs
  • What are the strongest areas within the centre at present and where are the opportunities? How are these areas geared for maximum synergy and/or innovation as part of the centre?
  • Are the proposed PIs internationally competitive researchers and do they have/ show the potential for, the required leadership skills?
  • Are the proposed research plans exciting and innovative, and likely to provide impact?
  1. Estates capacity
  • Is there sufficient space to house a DRI centre of up to 60 researchers?
  • What is the potential for growth?
  • Are the plans for refurbishment justified and achievable to the desired timeline?
  1. Level of institutional commitment
  • Is the capital request contributed to at 33% by the university (2:1 DRI: HEI ratio)?
  • What other support has the university offered, eg.posts and studentships, facility management, service provision etc?
  1. Strength of supportive research environment
  • Will the DRI programmes have appropriate access to resources/infrastructures to execute their plans?
  • What is the quality of the key research platforms and support services?
  1. Strength of the training environment
  • What is the quality of the training environment, as assessed through current grant support, and is high quality supervisory capacity available?
  • What is the track record of training in this area?
  1. Research governance
  • Are satisfactory governance structures and decision-making processes in place?
  • How empowered will the centre director be within the host HEI?

Applications will be scored against the criteria using a system of 1 to 4, as follows:

  1. Unsuitable. At least one of the major aspects is missing or  insufficiently developed
  2. Good. Broadly addresses the criteria, but has significant weaknesses and may not be suitable for selection.
  3. Very Good. Addresses the criteria but not at the highest level in certain aspects. Potentially suitable for selection
  4. Excellent. Fully meets the criteria and potentially suitable for selection.

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9. Key Dates

Applications should be structured as above and sent as a single, bookmarked, pdf document to: dri@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

The deadline for receipt of applications is 16.00h on Tuesday 7th February 2016.

Submission of applications by this deadline is mandatory and late applications will be rejected. Feedback will be provided after the Panel meeting in March, 2017 and decisions will be announced by April 2017, with awards made shortly afterwards.

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10. Contact Details

For queries please contact dri@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

The scientific programme manager responsible is Dr Catherine Moody, also contactable at Catherine.Moody@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk or on 020 7395 2231

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