BBSRC is not responsible for the content of external websites
Strategic plan: Strategic research priority 3 - Basic bioscience underpinning health
Driving advances in fundamental bioscience for better health and improved quality of life across the lifecourse, reducing the need for medical and social intervention
We are in a period of unprecedented demographic change, with the proportion of older people in the population increasing such that by 2050, 40% of the UK population will be over 50, and 25% over 65.
While lifespan is increasing, ‘healthspan’ is not increasing at the same rate. Government has identified the ageing population as a key policy challenge (footnote 1) for which sustained investment in research is necessary to improve quality of life into old age, and to reduce pressure on the healthcare system.
Pharmaceuticals provide enormous benefit in helping to maintain or restore health over the lifecourse. The competitiveness of the UK pharmaceutical industry depends largely on the strength of the public sector research base where the challenge is to help sustain rates of discovery of new therapeutic agents, lower the cost to market and improve the efficiency of production.
Case study: Ageing
Research at the University of Birmingham found that the loss of immunity with age, which makes older people more susceptible to infection, is partially due to a stress hormone imbalance. Correcting the balance allows the immune cells to function better.
Image shows a coloured transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of immature white blood cells (leucocytes).
Basic bioscience is vital to reveal the biological mechanisms underlying normal physiology and homeostatic control during early development and through life. We aim to achieve a deep, integrated understanding of the healthy system at multiple levels and the factors maintaining health under stress and biological or environmental challenge. We will support bioscience research to help sustain lifelong health and wellbeing - through prevention strategies or new treatments - in the modern environment. This includes research to improve our understanding of regulatory networks underlying biological rhythms and mechanisms of dietary choice. New research will reveal how the ageing process itself results in increased frailty and loss of adaptability in areas such as the gastrointestinal tract, brain and immune system.
We will also support fundamental and comparative studies of human, animal and microbial biology leading to potential new antimicrobial drugs and to improvements in both human and animal health in the context of ‘one biology, one health’
A key research goal is to develop a better understanding of the role of diet and physical activity and the mechanisms by which they affect development and health. Given the complex nature of these relationships, systems approaches are well suited to model the interplay over the lifecourse between the GI tract, nutrition, food properties, endocrinology and metabolic regulation.
Multidisciplinary research combining knowledge in areas such as stem cells, engineering and materials chemistry is needed for the development of new regenerative medicine and tissue engineering applications.
Basic bioscience funded by BBSRC underpins the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. Our funding for research and training supports open innovation in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors by providing expertise and skills within leading universities and research institutions.
BBSRC will work closely with MRC and other Research Councils to ensure joined-up research across the ‘wellness to illness’ spectrum. We will also work to achieve a common interface with the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries for more co-ordinated development.
Molecular cell biology, chemical biology, biochemistry and biophysics drive the discovery and validation of new drug targets leading to more effective and/or selective pharmaceuticals. In particular, modelling how cells, networks of cells, tissues and organs function in integrated ways at all levels of organisation including signalling pathways. This will provide new insights to potential drug targets and pharmaceuticals. In the longer term, the construction of a virtual human metabolic network will provide even greater increases in the efficiency of pharmaceutical design and development.
Biopharmaceuticals make up a significant proportion of new drugs and represent a field where BBSRC-funded basic bioscience has a significant impact. We will prioritise research to underpin biopharmaceutical development, particularly in areas such as bioprocessing, to improve the manufacture, quality and yield of these complex products, and ultimately to drive down costs.
Since 2003 we have:
- Funded a new £6.5M Centre for Integrative and Systems Biology in ageing at Newcastle University
- Launched a joint funding programme with the US National Institute of Aging to catalyse new and long-term UK-US collaborations in research into the normal ageing process
- Brought together the academic and industrial research communities through Research and Technology Clubs to support research underpinning the needs of the food industry ( Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC)) and to resolve bottlenecks in the manufacture of biopharmaceuticals ( Bioprocessing Research Industry Club (BRIC))
- Established 4 major Centres, in partnership with industry and other funders, to build capacity and provide training in integrative mammalian biology and in vivo physiology
Some key priorities 2010-2015
Case study: Tissue engineering
The first tissue-engineered trachea (windpipe) to be transplanted successfully was developed using a technique for growing cells pioneered by BBSRC-funded scientists at the University of Bristol.
- Generate new knowledge of the biological mechanisms of ageing, and the maintenance of health
- Develop model organisms and systems that provide insight into physiological processes that are key for maintaining health in humans
- Establish greater understanding of how diet affects health throughout life, including epigenetic effects, complex dietary exposures and gut function
- Support new knowledge to advance regenerative medicine, including stem cell biology, and accelerate the translation into applications e.g. through Innovation and knowledge centres
- Build national capability in integrative mammalian biology, and drive the use of modelling and simulation to complement in vivo approaches
- Support the next phase of the RCUK programme on Lifelong Health and Wellbeing, ensuring that outcomes are translated to improve quality of life for the ageing population
- Develop new tools in areas such as chemical biology, high resolution structural analysis, lipidomics, proteomics, biomarkers and bioimaging, high throughput and comparative genomics and modelling
- Develop Phase 2 of the Bioprocessing Research Industry Club (BRIC), in partnership with industry and other funders, to support industrially relevant research in bioprocessing
- Long-term opportunities and challenges for the UK: analysis for the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review, HM Treasury, November 2006
Corporate Policy and Strategy