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Science we support

We spend around £80 million per year on PHS in most years. Our investments include epidemiological studies including: population cohorts, prevention research, methodology, intervention development, infrastructure informatics and global public health. We fund applied public health research through multi-funded partnerships and in MRC units and centres.


The UK supports an unparalleled collection of large scale population cohort studies which provide a wealth of longitudinal phenotypic, biological and social data for studying health and wellbeing throughout the life course. The ability to link to health and other routine records, collect data and samples from consenting participants and apply cutting-edge imaging and omics technologies, places the UK in an optimal position to fully capitalise on these major research assets.

The MRC Strategic Review of population cohorts (PDF, 2.07MB) was carried out by the MRC Population Health Sciences Group (PHSG) in 2014.

The largest investment in cohorts in the UK goes to the UK Biobank, which is a major national resource for health research, with the aim of improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses – including cancer, heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, eye disorders, depression and forms of dementia. Funded primarily by the MRC and the Wellcome Trust, UK Biobank recruited 500,000 people aged between 40-69 years in 2006-2010 from across the country to take part in this project. They have undergone measures, provided blood, urine and saliva samples for future analysis, detailed information about themselves and agreed to have their health followed.

This is developing into a powerful resource to help scientists discover why some people develop particular diseases and others do not.

UK Prevention Research Partnership

An alliance of research funders have agreed to commit £50 million to support research into the primary prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The vision is to generate new insights into actionable, sustainable and cost-effective ways of preventing NCDs that will improve population health and reduce health inequalities in the UK. The research should address the ‘upstream’ determinants of NCDs and be co-produced with users (such as policymakers, practitioners, health providers, the third sector, the public). The ‘upstream’ determinants include, but are not limited to, the built and natural environment; employment, education, welfare, transport, health and social care, and communication systems; and the policies of local and central government and of commercial enterprises.

The UKPRP is a new model of public health funding in the UK that seeks to:

  • build and support interdisciplinary research teams to develop, implement and evaluate generalisable and scalable preventive policies, practices, designs and interventions which will enable change within complex adaptive systems to prevent NCDs
  • deliver solutions for large-scale and cost-effective improvements in health and the prevention of NCDs that meet the needs of providers and policymakers and are responsive to the challenging timescales of policymaking. This will involve co-production of research with the public, policy makers, professionals and those likely to implement the intervention.

Units and centres

The MRC supports the following units and centres, which study the various determinants of population health:

  • MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Science Unit, University of Glasgow
  • MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton
  • MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge
  • MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at UCL
  • MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol
  • MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge
  • MRC Population Health Research Unit at the University of Oxford
  • MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Imperial College London
  • MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, Imperial College London and King's College London.

The UKCRC Public Health Research Centres of Excellence and The Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy

For ten years from 2008, partners in the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) provided £37 million for a network of six Public Health Research Centres of Excellence (UKCRC centres) to increase infrastructure, build academic capacity in public health research in the UK and provide a platform to engage with policy and practice.

A report on the legacy of these investment shows how 10-years of collaborative work by these centres – based in Edinburgh, Belfast, Newcastle, Nottingham, Cambridge and Cardiff – has exceeded expectations of what was thought possible back in 2008.

The UKCRC centres have expanded the pool of early-career researchers and nurtured their talent while creating new opportunities to work across academia, policy and practice. Researchers have gone on to expand their networks and advance their careers, securing fellowships and lectureships, winning awards and promotion. The UKCRC centres have been a strong magnet for leveraging significant additional funding to increase the volume and quality of public health research.