The UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) is committing up to £10 million (€13.25 million) in grants for research to evaluate human and animal models of disease.

The call for grant applications is part of a strategic drive at the MRC to target bottlenecks in translational research. It includes in vitro and in vivo disease models as well as in silico models – those developed through computer simulation – based on experimental data from animal and human studies.

The MRC is interested in research looking at the potential of existing human and animal models to identify disease mechanisms or interventions with promise in the detection, prevention or treatment of disease.

Qualifying studies should focus on further developing and validating existing disease models using available tests to demonstrate the similarity of symptoms, treatment responses and disease mechanisms between the model and the clinical disease state. Comparisons between models would also be welcome, the MRC added.

The research may propose new applications and disease areas for existing in vivo, in vitro or in silico models. As well as a strong core of work in the evaluation, qualification and development of the relevant model(s), applicants may offer proof of concept studies and research investigating the use of models in achieving a better understanding of disease mechanisms.

Partnerships with industry and charities are “strongly encouraged” where these “add value to the research, for example in terms of access to expertise, technologies, reagents, patient groups or funding”, the MRC said.

Priority will be given to areas of high unmet need and to applications focused on models “likely to be most informative in the development of treatments and/or preventive measures”, it noted. The call specifically excludes the creation of new disease models, the use of existing models for fundamental research and drug screening, and ADMET (Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism, Excretion and Toxicity) pharmacokinetic studies.

Building capacity
Recent consultation with stakeholders has highlighted the need to build capacity and strengthen multidisciplinary interaction in the disease models field, the Council pointed out. The natural history of many complex and often chronic human diseases is not well characterised, and better research tools for assessing the effects of interventions on disease pathways “would make a major contribution to improving the speed and reliability of treatment development and evaluation”.

Investing in research models targeted at areas of unmet need will help to accelerate the translation of advances in basic biological and clinical research into patient benefits and will enhance the international academic and commercial competitiveness of the UK in the diagnostic, toxicological and therapeutic sectors, the MRC added.

The deadline for grant applications is 16 April 2008. Details are available from the ‘Call for Proposals’ section of the MRC’s website at www.mrc.ac.uk/ApplyingforaGrant/CallsForProposals/index.htm.