Following a five-year review by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Babraham Institute will receive £48 million to support core research across epigenetics, immunology and cell signalling.

Over the next four years, BBSRC’s investment will drive key research on the mechanisms that maintain the health of our cells, tissues and organs across the whole life course.

A focus on fundamental research

Babraham’s fundamental research focuses on understanding biology in relation to maintaining health, especially with regards to protecting and maximizing good health in the later years of life.

Older age brings many opportunities but can also be blighted by declining health and life-changing or life-limiting diseases.

The trend in people living longer means they are more likely to spend a proportion of their later years in ill health. Beyond the immediate impact on the individual, this has wider impacts on families, people with caring responsibilities and public service providers.

Protecting and maximizing health span and minimizing time spent in ill health as we age is at the heart of the Babraham Institute’s research.

Strategic research programmes

BBSRC’s investment supports three strategic programs of work to advance our ability to protect health and counter age-related decline:

  • cellular responses to stress
  • epigenetic control across the life course
  • immunity, resilience and repair

The research will be delivered by teams of internationally recognized experts at the Babraham Institute working in close collaboration with partners across academia and industry. This includes BBSRC’s other strategically supported research institutes and companies based on the Babraham Research Campus.

A dynamic bioscience ecosystem

This latest funding forms part of BBSRC’s wider investment in a new portfolio of strategically important research across eight UK bioscience institutes announced in May 2023.

As the UK’s major public funder of bioscience research and innovation, BBSRC’s total investment of £424 million will significantly enhance the UK’s capability to deliver world-leading research with socio-economic impact.

Harnessing the power of bioscience

Professor Guy Poppy, Interim Executive Chair at BBSRC, said:

The Babraham Institute is a critical component of the national and international bioscience research and innovation ecosystem. Babraham are experts in their field, and the world-leading research they undertake has the potential to transform our understanding of health across the whole life course.

But we are not only investing in science that promises to reveal critical insights into the mechanisms of life. We are nurturing an ecosystem where innovation flourishes.

Over the next four years, BBSRC’s strategic investments will help harness the power of bioscience for a healthier, more resilient future.

The strength of team science

Dr Simon Cook, Babraham Institute Director, said:

We are immensely excited to initiate this new strategic program of research. The combination of expertise brought together to achieve this work, including our researchers, our technical experts and the skills of the teams that enable our research to happen, means we can tackle important biological questions in new ways.

From understanding the earliest steps of development to ensuring that vaccines deliver strong protection to older populations, each discovery will make a difference to human health and wellbeing.

Due to changes in leadership, the Babraham Institute completed BBSRC’s institute assessment exercise in 2023, a year later than the seven other BBSRC-supported institutes. As such, the institute will receive BBSRC funding for four years until 2028.

Further information

Babraham Institute strategic research programs 2024 to 2028

Cellular responses to stress

The cellular responses to stress program focuses on understanding some of the drivers of age-related functional decline.

Lifelong health is dependent on resilience and the ability of our cells and tissues to detect, adapt and rebound from challenges such as environmental toxins, injury and changes in diet.

This program will identify cell signaling mechanisms that allow cells to respond to growth stimuli or cell stress or damage. These include protein quality control mechanisms (proteostasis) that clear the cells of damaged proteins that would otherwise accumulate throughout the life course. Defects in these signaling processes drive aging and age-related disease.

The knowledge gained from this research will help identify new opportunities for therapeutic intervention to mitigate age-related physiological decline that will be advanced with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

Epigenetic control across the life course

Epigenetic states underpin the fidelity of gene expression and cell identity during development and throughout the life course. Once established, the resilience of epigenetic states is critical for healthy aging.

This research program will define how epigenetic control is established at key stages of development and how it changes over the life course, particularly in relation to changing nutrition.

It will also lay the foundations for future therapeutic interventions to safeguard epigenetic states, mitigating adverse change and promoting resilience.

Other applications of this work include stem-cell based therapies for wound treatment and improved techniques for cell reprogramming as part of regenerative medicine.

Immunity, resilience and repair

A decline in adaptive immunity is one of the most widely recognized consequences of aging, leading to increased susceptibility to infection and disease and decreased protection from vaccination.

This program will define the molecular and cellular basis of how our immune system responds to infection and vaccination, and how it is affected by aging. This knowledge is key to understanding how immune protection is developed and maintained and of relevance to vaccine development, disease treatment and auto-immunity.

Promoting immunity is one of the pillars of lifelong health and one of the best interventions we have in a world at risk of losing effective antimicrobials.

This research will provide a molecular and cellular-level understanding of the orchestration of immune cell interactions and co-dependencies and how immunological memory is maintained. It will underpin future approaches to promote immunity through vaccination and help mitigate detrimental inflammation and immune senescence.

Top image: Credit: Babraham Institute

BBSRC invests £48 million in lifelong health research at Babraham Institute – UKRI

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