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£49m to study the human brain at the molecular level

26 Mar 2012

The world-famous MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge has been awarded £49m over the next five years to examining the biology of the brain at a molecular level. A major part of the investment is intended to accelerate researchers’ understanding of the basic biological processes that lead to devastating neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.

The funding for neuroscience represents a 50 per cent increase on previous years and includes support for cellular neurobiology, one of the LMB’s major initiatives supported through their most recent five year review. This will build on current strengths and will look at how neurological processes, such as synaptic activity, affect simple behaviours. Approximately one quarter of the £49m funding for neuroscience at the LMB will focus on mechanisms of neurodegeneration, with much of the remainder providing vital underpinning basic research in cellular neuroscience.

The LMB will receive nearly £170m core funding support from the Medical Research Council over the next five years to pursue its overarching mission of understand biological processes at the molecular level, including the challenge to close the gap between structural and cell biology. Already £4.5m has been invested in a state-of-the-art Titan Krios electron microscope, the first in the UK, which will allow visualisation of large protein complexes in unprecedented detail.

At the same time, the Cell Biology Division at LMB will have an increased focus on the processes affecting cellular damage and ageing.

A new Centre for Chemical and Synthetic Biology, headed by Dr Jason Chin, is being established within the LMB. The Centre will focus on the exploitation of novel chemistry to develop new tools to explore biological processes in health and disease, and to develop new approaches to therapy.

Sir Hugh Pelham, director of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said:

“Our aim at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology is to improve human health by increasing our understanding of the biology behind human disease at the molecular level. An important aspect of what we do here is in trying to determine the basic mechanisms of how the brain works and what happens when problems arise. Continued investment in such cutting edge research is vital for us to piece together the processes that give rise to diseases such as dementia. The results of our recent review showed we are very well placed to take this kind of research to the next level.”

The MRC LMB will move to its new £200m facilities in Cambridge in the autumn after 50 years on the current site. LMB researchers have made landmark advances such as the sequencing of DNA, and 13 of its scientists were awarded Nobel prizes, either singly or as joint nominees. The new facilities offer researchers state-of-the-art laboratory space, with emphasis being placed on ‘scientist interaction’ in its layout, as well as providing bench space for 21st century science.

Notes to editors

The MRC carries out scientific reviews of the work being carried out in Institutes and their Divisions in order to be assured of their strategic justification, scientific excellence and value for money. These reviews take place every five years.

The Institute Review looks at the overall Institute vision and strategy, metrics and value for money. It does not revisit the scientific assessments of the Institute Divisions or individual programmes but, taking into account the outcome of the Divisional reviews, assesses the overall scientific quality, impact and ‘added value’ of the Institute.


  • Categories: Funding
  • Health categories: Neurological
  • Locations: Cambridge
  • Type: News article