NC3Rs-BBSRC Joint Highlight: New approaches to ageing research

With the burgeoning social and healthcare implications of an ageing population, investment in understanding the biology of ageing and developing treatments for age-related diseases is increasing. Although age is the main risk factor for many diseases, there is an important and expanding research focus on healthy ageing and understanding the biology of the normal ageing process and the influence of factors such as nutrition and epigenetics on improving lifelong health. 

Almost all organisms age, with a strong evolutionary conservation of the molecular pathways and cellular responses that are implicated in ageing being observed. Consequently a broad range of model organisms, from yeast to Drosophila to non-human primates, are used for ageing research purposes.

The mouse is commonly the model organism of choice for ageing research, and while it has many similarities to ageing in humans, there are questions about how effectively mice mimic aspects of human senescence, as well as concerns about the costs and potential animal welfare issues of maintaining ageing mouse colonies. Many studies use young or immature mice (i.e. between 8 to 12 weeks of age) for studying age-related diseases, even though the relevant systems (e.g. musculoskeletal, CNS or immune functions), have not yet been fully developed.

The BBSRC and NC3Rs are collaborating on a joint funding highlight notice to encourage the development of new and innovative models and approaches for ageing research, which reduce the current reliance on mammalian models, as well as address the gaps in terms of scientific utility and relevance to human ageing. 

Scope of highlight notice | Timing and application process | Summary of key deadlines | Related information

Scope of the highlight notice

Applications should focus on the biology of ageing and the development of new models and approaches which could minimise the use of mammalian models, as well as providing new insights into the molecular, cellular and physiological events of ageing (and their association with disease).

Areas in scope include, but are not limited to, the fundamental biological mechanisms of the ageing process across the lifecourse, for example improving understanding of how ageing impacts on homeostasis/physiological function in the musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, immune, cognitive, circadian and sensory systems.  

The types of models and approaches the funders envisage will be supported include, but are not limited to:

  • Cellular and tissue engineered systems (e.g. using stem cell technologies, human tissue)
  • Systems biology approaches
  • Mathematical and computational models
  • Clinical and population data
  • Non-mammalian organisms (e.g. Drosophila)1.

Applications should include:

  • The types of animal studies that may be replaced with the new model or approach and an indication of the potential reduction in animal use that could be achieved.
  • Where appropriate, comparator work (e.g. using data from previous animal studies, or population or clinical data) to demonstrate the utility of the new model or approach. Consideration should be given to including a co-investigator or collaborator who can facilitate this.
  • Plans for encouraging wider uptake across the ageing (and where appropriate disease-related) research community including identifying potential barriers to uptake and possible solutions to address these.

Proposals can be submitted to either the BBSRC or NC3Rs depending on the focus:

  • For the NC3Rs: Models of the ageing process with relevance to human disease and/or the development of co-morbidity.  

Applications will be assessed on their scientific excellence and importantly, their potential to minimise the use of mammalian models whilst improving relevance to human ageing.

1For the use of non-mammalian systems, proposals should focus on improving their relevance to human ageing and on building confidence in their utility for replacing the use of animals protected under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

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Timing and application process


A workshop will be held on 1 September 2017 in central London to bring together experts in ageing and age-related diseases, researchers using animal and non-animal approaches, and other stakeholders. The aims of the workshop are to discuss the advantages and limitations of existing model systems and the specifications and requirements for effective models of ageing, and to provide networking opportunities for developing collaborative, interdisciplinary research proposals.

The workshop is free to attend but registration is essential.

Step 1: Expression of interest (for the NC3Rs and BBSRC)

Researchers intending to submit an application under the highlight notice must submit an Expression of Interest (maximum of two A4 pages) identifying:

  • Research aims or objectives
  • Summary of project plan
  • Relevance to the BBSRC or NC3Rs remit
  • Approximate cost at 80% FEC

The deadline for the submission of Expressions of Interest is 16:00 GMT on 31 October 2017.  A template for Expressions of Interest is available on both the BBSRC and NC3Rs websites.

Expressions of Interest should be sent to one of the following staff, who will provide a first point of contact to discuss ideas:

BBSRC Ms Lydia Darragh
NC3Rs Dr Katie Bates

Expressions of Interest (EoI) will not be assessed on their scientific quality. The NC3Rs and BBSRC will decide if applications fall within the highlight notice remit and will ensure that applications are directed to the most appropriate funder to assess the research, or advise applicants where their EoI does not meet the scope.

Step 2: Outline applications (for the NC3Rs only)

The NC3Rs has a formal outline stage for its project grant scheme, with outlines due 10 January 2018, 16:00.

Step 3 Full applications (for the NC3Rs and BBSRC)

The deadline for full applications in BBSRC’s remit is 17 January 2018, 16:00.

The deadline for invited full applications within the NC3Rs remit, following the outline stage, is 18 April 2018, 16:00. A workshop will be held for all NC3Rs invited applicants, in March 2018, should they wish to attend. 

Applications should be submitted through the Research Councils UK’s Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) System. Peer review will follow the usual procedures of the lead funding body, in conjunction with appropriate dialogue between the NC3Rs and BBSRC. 

Highlight notices do not have a separate budget and applications are considered in competition with the other applications received; however strategic relevance to the highlight will be one of the assessment criteria taken into consideration during the assessment process.

Funding decisions will be announced in July 2018.

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Summary of key deadlines

1 September 2017 Workshop
31 October 2017* Expressions of Interest (both funders)
10 January 2018* (TBC) NC3Rs formal outline stage
18 January 2018* BBSRC full application to Responsive Mode
18 April 2018* (TBC) NC3Rs invited full applications
July 2018 Expected decision announcement (both funders)

*Expressions of interest and both outline and full applications must be submitted before 16:00 on the deadline date.

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Related Information

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