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An ambitious programme for advancing research into multiple long-term conditions (multimorbidity)

by Guest Author on 2 Jul 2020

Research into multiple long-term conditions, or multimorbidity, is a relatively new field and funders are actively working with various stakeholders to overcome the challenges as set out in the recently published cross-funder framework. The Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) programme “Tackling multimorbidity at scale: Understanding disease clusters, determinants and biological pathways” is jointly funded by UK Research and Innovation – Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Department of Health and Social Care, through the National Institute for Health Research. After extensive round table discussions and workshops, this initiative was launched last year with the strategic objective to improve prevention, management and treatment of multimorbidity through building the UK’s capacity for transformative research in this area.

Research - tube

Professor Jill Pell, the Director of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, said: “Healthcare and clinical trials are currently configured to deal with individual conditions; but this does not reflect reality. Multimorbidity is becoming increasingly common and contributes to health inequalities. This initiative will bring together complementary expertise from a wide range of academic disciplines to develop novel insights and solutions that have real-world impact.”

This SPF programme is a two-stage funding competition for Research Collaborative awards. The first-stage funding Panel met virtually on the 30 March 2020 (a week into the pandemic lockdown!) to assess research collaborative outline proposals and to recommend successful applications for the short-term developmental (Consolidator) grants. A total of 11 Consolidator grants were awarded.

The diverse range of the successful applications of this very competitive funding opportunity reflects the breadth of the field and the variety of the research questions that need addressing. The multi-disciplinary teams include academics from research organisations across the UK. The future Research Collaboratives are embedding patient perspectives into their research plans and developing a clear vision of the pathway to implementation to the health and care system for patient benefit. They will use multiple UK and international populations, clinical and administrative data sources to create rich datasets to help better understand multiple long-term conditions across the whole life course, from prenatal health to late stages of life. Several projects will also explore interactions between mental and physical health. By examining the contribution of multiple factors, including socio-economic, environmental, genetic and behavioural, the projects will be taking a much-needed holistic approach to human health.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for such approach and for better understanding of the complexity of disease interactions in order to design and deliver the best care for patients. As more research is done, it is becoming clearer that people with existing long-term conditions may be the most vulnerable, and other factors, including age, gender and ethnicity may also contribute to possible poor health outcomes. The research this SPF programme will enable may also advance our understanding of the interface between physical and mental health that could help us better manage future health crises at an individual and population level.


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