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Turning up the heat


Wellcome Trust moves into climate-impact research

The Wellcome Trust’s strategy shake-up in 2020 saw it introduce programmes on three major themes: infectious diseases, mental health and the health impacts of climate change. The trust’s commitment to the final theme in that list is hard to doubt; it has committed up to £75 million to it this year alone.

In May, it launched the second call in its climate-change programme, focusing on biological vulnerability to extreme heat in maternal and child health. The deadline for preliminary applications is 8 August and applicants who make it past the first round will be invited to submit full proposals in September.

The call is open to researchers of any nationality, who may be based anywhere except mainland China. Up to £2m is available per award and projects are expected to last three-to-five years, although Wellcome declined to comment on the number of awards it expects to make.

Reetika Suri, senior research manager for climate impacts at the Wellcome Trust, guides potential applicants through the climate and health programme, and its most recent call.

How will funding under the climate and health programme be structured?

Currently we have these one-off calls because the programme is fairly new, and we are still understanding the space and the needs of our research community. Starting from next year, we hope to put together recurring schemes that will run maybe once or twice a year.

How popular was the programme’s first call?

We didn’t have any expectations of what we were hoping to see in terms of numbers of applications. But it seems to have crossed the 100 mark so far, which we’re excited about.

Does Wellcome expect to launch more climate and health calls this year?

We’re developing another one around mitigation actions, looking at July as a likely launch time.

Why the heat focus for this call? 

About a third of climate change-related deaths are related to exposure to extreme heat, but most of the work on biological vulnerability to heat stress has been done in elite athletes and in the military. Considering the large populations that are exposed to extreme heat, the focus on filling that evidence gap and understanding what we need to improve interventions is vital.

How much funding is available?

We haven’t specified a total amount of funding for the call. Some applications might come in at £2m, some might come in at well under that and still be excellent and win through.

Should project leaders be senior academics?

We’re looking for somebody who has experience of leading a research programme, and that is from the generation of an idea all the way down to the successful completion of a programme.

What are the bid essentials?

A clear articulation of what the problem is and how the team is going to be able to address it. We’re looking for transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research teams that will co-produce and work closely with the affected communities that they are studying. We are looking at biological vulnerability, so it needs to be a physiology-based application and have appropriate expertise as part of the team.

Is there a preference for projects led by researchers located in areas with extreme heat?

We would love to see leadership from researchers based in low- and middle-income countries. That is not to say we will exclude people who are based in other countries, but if we do have leadership from high-income countries where the research will not directly affect the population, we would expect those researchers to collaborate with people based in countries where people will see the effects of the research.

Translation into policy and practice is important; how can researchers demonstrate that?

By having a good understanding of either a policy window or a practitioner, or community need; then, typically, building relationships with the people who will be doing that translation into policy or practice from early on as part of the proposal—involving those stakeholders and co-producing the research with them. 

There are lots of ways to demonstrate that as part of the application process, from things like letters of support, for example, as well as regular check-ins.

Do applicants need experience of public engagement?

It will be important to have that experience on the team, and that could take the form of one of the researchers having that experience or having, for example, a public engagement officer. We appreciate this is more likely to happen in a high-income country where big research offices can provide that support, so we envisage teams that would have different types of expertise from different parts of the world.

Can applicants expect support?

Yes, if there is anything in the call documentation that people have questions about, we have a dedicated inbox and we’re happy to take questions, so please do reach out.

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com