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Mechanistic research in nutrition

Following publication of the Cross-Council vision for Food, Nutrition and Health Research and also the 2017 Review of Nutrition and Human Health Research (PDF, 3.00MB) the MRC wishes to continue to encourage research that will increase mechanistic understanding of the role that foods and nutrients play in health and disease.

Researchers from a range of backgrounds are invited to apply their expertise to understand how diet and nutritional components act at a molecular, cellular and systems level to influence physiological and pathological processes. Proposals should contribute to one or more of the following goals:

  • robustly ascribe cause and effect from epidemiological correlations and nutritional interventions
  • increase understanding of variations in nutritional requirements (at key life stages in different population groups) and in responses to dietary interventions
  • provide a robust mechanistic understanding to inform nutritional interventions

We are particularly keen to attract the most innovative, exciting and collaborative applications, including partnerships between clinical and basic scientists and with industry.

Background: the strategic need for Mechanistic research in nutrition

Changing diets and dietary habits are placing an unsustainable burden on healthcare systems, individuals and societies. Poor or inappropriate nutrition is associated with increased risk of many chronic conditions, making the widespread tendency towards consumption of foods with high energy and low nutrient density a pressing challenge for the developed and, increasingly, the developing world.

Despite the clear influence of diet on health, many of the fundamental mechanisms which link nutritional intake to physiological consequences remain undetermined. An improved mechanistic understanding will form part of a wider robust evidence base which is important in determining cause-and-effect relationships and the development of healthier foods, optimisation of nutritional guidelines and determination of effective intervention strategies.

There is, therefore, a need to answer fundamental questions about the mechanisms by which dietary components impact upon biological processes and how these link through to influences on health and disease.


Projects should unite nutrition research with leading-edge biology and physiology to deliver new understanding of the role that foods and nutrients play in physiological and pathophysiological systems. Experimental medicine approaches, and human studies which provide opportunities for “reverse translation” to more basic research, are also within scope.

We welcome proposals which aim to improve understanding, at cellular, systems and whole body level (in humans or model systems where appropriate), of the physiological and pathological processes by which dietary patterns and/or food constituents influence health outcomes. High-quality, small-scale studies in well-defined healthy, at risk, or clinical groups are particularly encouraged.

Topics of interest include but are not limited to:

  • the role of dietary components in gut health and the development of disease
  • gut-brain communication in relation to appetite control, satiety and reward

Application Guidelines

Funding for this area is not ring-fenced; successful applications will be funded through the MRC’s funding opportunities, as appropriate.

If you wish to discuss your MRC proposal informally please contact the Programme Manager for nutrition - Dr Karen Finney (karen.finney@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk).

Applications with cross-Council relevance are welcome but should be discussed with Dr Finney prior to submission.

Dependent on the scientific area, proposals may be submitted to the following boards/initiatives, through the normal deadlines and funding scheme.

For more details, please visit our guidance for applicant web pages or see the PDF of complete guidance (PDF, 897KB).

Applications involving industry collaboration should include an MRC Industry Collaboration Agreement (MICA) form, available on the MICA web page.