Site search
Back to listing

MRC/BBSRC systems immunology of the human life course

Please note this opportunity is now CLOSED.
View all OPEN opportunities

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, modelling, 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.

Back to top


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.

Back to top


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 modelling, 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 modelling 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.

Back to top

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.

Back to top


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.

Back to top

Workshop report

Systems Immunology of the Human Life Course - 14 December 2012

Back to top

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

Back to top

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 modelling.
  • 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.

Back to top


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.

Back to top

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 modelling.

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.

Back to top

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 below for additional guidance.



Is there a limit to the number of applications I can submit?

Individuals may be the Principal Investigator on two applications, but may act as a Co-Investigator on any number of applications. However, please note that the assessment will consider the level of engagement of Principle Investigators and Co-Investigators with the research and their capacity to meet these requirements.

Can MRC/BBSRC units and institutes apply under this call?

Yes. However any award to a MRC/BBSRC unit/institute would be made on the basis of 100 per cent directly incurred costs only and would not include indirect or estates costs.

Can I submit research which has previously been submitted to an MRC Research Board or Panel and was not funded?

Applications previously declined by the MRC or another Research Council will not be considered by the MRC within 12 months (from the date of submission to the original Research Council, as either an outline or full application) unless substantially revised.


What constitutes systems immunology?

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, modelling, simulation, prediction and experiments. In systems immunology, these principles and approaches are applied to immune function in health and disease.

The Panel will consider applications which comply with the above definition of systems approach. The systems approach should be applied to a basic or clinical question or problem including changes over the human life course, infectious human disease and to disorders of the human immune system.

Must my application be disease focused?

No, we are also interested in projects which monitor normal immunological changes which take place throughout the life course with no particular disease focus.

If my application doesn’t fit the call remit, what options do I have?

If your application does not fit the remit of this call, but is within the broader sphere of MRC interest, then you may apply via other normal funding mechanisms. Please see funding opportunities on our website for more information or email to Dr Jacqui Oakley.

What will happen if more than one application is received in any particular disease or subject area?

The MRC will expect researchers to take a collaborative approach in developing these consortia. MRC may consider short listing two outlines in the same disease or subject area if there is marked difference in the aims. If there is significant overlap in two or more outlines, MRC may invite applicants to work together on a single full application.

Consortium development

Who should be involved in a consortium?

Consortia should be multidisciplinary incorporating the necessary expertise to address both the immunological question and the computational and mathematical experimental approaches to answer these.

What stage of development is expected of the consortia?

The outline stage can also be used as a stimulus for consortia development. Applicants should indicate the stage of development of the consortium. The panel will need to see detail of how the teams will work together and integrate, as specified in the guidance detailed in the case for support.

Can I include industry partners within my consortia?

Yes, collaborations with industry are also strongly encouraged, where this will add demonstrable value to the project. Where the project partner is industrial, applicants must then follow the guidance relating to MRC Industrial Collaborative Awards (MICAs) as outlined in section 4.2.5 of the applicant handbook and on the MICAs section of the website.


How much funding is available under this call?

The MRC has allocated £3 million to the call so far, BBSRC are contributing a further £1 million.

What is the expected duration of the grants under this call?

Duration should be based on the programme needs, but 4-5 years would be normal.

Are applications under this call value limited?

No. Awards under this call will not be limited. However applications are expected to be appropriately costed and all resources requested adequately justified. We anticipate most projects to have an upper value of £2m.

Will the application attract full economic costs (FEC)?

Yes, the application will need to be submitted on a FEC basis.

Will awards be pruned?

Yes, the MRC will retain the option to prune awards in line with developing the consortium and feedback received from the Systems Immunology panel. However, it is still important that applications are appropriately costed and represent clear value for money.

When will the outcome of outlines be announced?

The outcome and feedback on outlines will be sent to lead applicants at the end of March 2013.

When will the awards be announced?

Awards will be announced following approval of the Systems Immunology Panels recommendations in October 2013.


My organisation is not registered to use the Je-S system.

Please contact the J-eS helpdesk as soon as possible with details of your organisation and the grant scheme you wish to apply for.

What is the page limit for the case for support?

The page limit for outlines is 4 pages and for full applications the limit is 12 pages.

Can I create my own case for support document as I would for a normal research grant?

No, outline applications must use the headings specified in the call text on the MRC website.

Can I include annexes in my application?

No annexes will be accepted.

What happens if my application is received after the deadline?

Any proposals received after the deadline will not be eligible for this call and will be declined.


How are proposals assessed?

At the Outline stage, applications will be reviewed by the System’s Immunology Scientific Panel comprising comprised of senior independent academics, and representatives of MRC Boards. There will be two possible outcomes of this review stage:

  • Outline proposal successful – applicants will be invited to develop a full proposal to be submitted 30th June 2013
  • Outline proposal unsuccessful – applicants will be given feedback.

At the Full proposal stage, applications will be sent out for international peer review and assessed by the Systems Immunology Panel. Applicants may be invited to panel interview at the full application stage. The expert panel will make the final funding decisions. Full proposals will be assessed on the standard criteria for an MRC research grant. MRC may supplement the panel with additional expertise.

Will the applicant be given the opportunity to respond to the panel?

Applicants will be able to respond to reviewers comments during the panel meeting. Applicants however, will not be allowed to respond to the Panel. The Panel’s decision is final.

Ethics and governance

Do I need full ethics permission and regulatory approvals for any human studies in the proposal? If so, when should I apply for this?

The MRC does not require ethics permissions and regulatory approvals to be in place when you submit an application. However, given that research requiring the use of human tissue/organs may raise various ethical and regulatory issues, applicants will be required to demonstrate that they have adequately considered these matters. Early discussions with regulatory bodies may be required to ensure that all requirements can be met in a timely manner once an application is successful. It is the responsibility of your host institution to ensure that the appropriate ethics approval(s) has been obtained and that no research requiring such approval is initiated before it has been granted. Please read the MRC terms and conditions.


How will you let me know if my application has been successful?

The Principal Investigator will be notified of the decision on outlines and also full applications by email communication.

Will you publish a list of the awards that are made?

Yes, MRC intend to publish a list of the short-listed outline applications to raise awareness to the broader industry and academic communities of potential collaborative opportunities.

Following the final funding decisions a list of awards will be made available on the MRC website (the list will be inclusive of name, title of grant, host institution and value awarded).


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.

Back to top

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

Back to top