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Deep-rooted research


Brain Research UK supports work that drills down on complex conditions

The charity Brain Research UK has a total of £1 million on offer for its research grants this year. These will support translational projects of up to three years’ duration in three areas (dementia is excluded). Each grant can be worth up to £300,000 with capital spending per project capped at £20,000. The charity runs a two-stage application process and the deadline for preliminary bids is 20 April.

Katie Martin, research manager at the charity, explains Brain Research UK’s mechanism of action.

What is the focus on your project grants?

We focus our research funding on three areas: brain and spinal cord tumours; acquired brain and spinal cord injuries; and headache and facial pain. We chose those areas after noticing a lack of dedicated research funding there compared with other areas, such as dementia, where there are two big
national charities.

For the first time this year, we have included a supplementary theme in the call relating to those three disease areas. We have said we want to receive applications for the development of models that will support research into those three themes. That has come from discussion on applications we have received in the past where people are using models our panel feel aren’t quite right or up to the job so there is a lack in some areas of relevant models.

What are you looking for in applications?

First, applications must have a mechanistic hypothesis and there are specifics in each of the priority areas. 

For headache and facial pain, we are looking for applications for research that will improve the management and treatment of headache and facial pain disorders. In brain and spinal cord tumours, we are looking for applications that will improve clinical outcomes. In acquired brain and spinal cord injury, we are looking for research that is going help understand how to really repair the injury and restore function.

How much funding is available for the project grants?

We have around £1m available, which is the usual amount. Generally we manage to award four grants, which normally involves going slightly over the £1m we have set aside.

What is the success rate like?

Last year we got more applications than ever before. I don’t know why—maybe it was a catch-up after Covid. We received 87 applications at the first stage, which is a lot more than previous years. We have a two-stage process. The first stage is a short preliminary application and they then get shortlisted by our panel. They aim to shortlist down to around 12. I think last year they shortlisted 16 out of those 87 and then ultimately we awarded four grants.

Who sits on the panel?

It is a mixture of people representing those different three areas and then some people that are more general in terms of their interests. But they are all scientists or clinicians.

Is there any minimum experience that people need to have?

No. We particularly welcome applications from early career researchers, which we define as people with up to 10 years’ post-doctoral experience. We do say people must have their own salary in place when they apply, which tends to rule out very junior people. It just comes down to them being able to demonstrate feasibility and their track record, and whether they are equipped to carry out the research successfully.

What makes a proposal stand out?

First, it should be well written, which seems obvious but some applications are not. If an application is clear to read it really does count for a lot. Applications that make a strong case of the need for the research and the clinical need that is being addressed also stand out. 

So, having something clear and logical about impact and where the research is going to lead and how it will add to what we already know. Evidence of feasibility and justification for the experimental approach that they are using is also important.

Other than not doing the above, have you noticed any recurrent errors?

Every year we get some that are just out of remit. Please do not try to shoehorn applications into the remit that do not fit. If an application is not in remit, it won’t get shortlisted. Looking through the minutes of our last meeting with the panel, lack of preliminary data was another thing that cropped up often, as well as queries around feasibility.

Do you have any other words of advice for applicants?

The charity and the panel members realise that the preliminary application is a big ask. It is a 700-word limit for the main project overview, which isn’t a lot and they do expect a lot to go in there in terms of information about what they are doing, how they are doing it and why they are going to do it. Being able to explain succinctly is a skill that needs to be
exercised there. 

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