Medical Research Council announces further details on research funding for ME/CFS

February 23, 2011

For access to the full page at the MRC website, click on the following link:


Understanding the Mechanisms of CFS/ME

MRC invites proposals for high-quality, internationally competitive research partnerships addressing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). Collaborative proposals must be submitted via Je-S by 4pm on 7 June 2011.


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is a complex and serious debilitating medical condition with a diverse range of symptoms. Profound physical and/or mental fatigue is the most well-known, while others include pain, disturbed sleep patterns and gastrointestinal problems. Each patient experiences their own personal combination of symptoms.

CFS/ME research has been a high priority area for the MRC for some time. The development of this call for proposals has been informed by the work of the MRC Expert Group, (chaired by Professor Stephen Holgate), other experts in the field of CFS/ME and research leaders in aligned areas who have identified and prioritised medical research topics where the MRC might target efforts to encourage and support high-quality proposals.

Details of MRC’s past activities related to CFS/ME research, including the development of research topics for this call for proposals, can be found on:

Focus of the call

CFS/ME is a complex, heterogeneous condition that comprises the interaction of different biological, physical and psychological mechanisms. Understanding these mechanistic pathways and the interactions between them is important in improving understanding of the condition.

The focus of this initiative is to support high-quality, innovative medical research that increases the current knowledge base of CFS/ME; and on drawing in expertise and resources from related research fields. Applications must address the mechanisms underlying chronic changes related to CFS/ME, particularly focusing on one or more of the following areas:

Autonomic dysfunction: In CFS/ME evidence supports an association between the condition and various forms of hypotension, reduced heart rate variability, alterations in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic stress response systems.

Cognitive symptoms: Cognitive problems are commonly reported in CFS/ME. These include impaired short-term working memory and thinking, difficulties with concentration and attention span, and impaired information processing.

Fatigue: Chronic disabling fatigue is a common, poorly understood phenomenon. There is a need to better understand the measurement and mechanisms of central (brain) and peripheral (muscle) fatigue and post-exertional malaise as well as the influence of complicating factors such as depression, sleep disorders and pain.

Immune dysregulation: There is evidence for a disturbance in innate and adaptive immunity in CFS/ME including alterations in cytokine profile, absolute and functional alterations in T cells and NK cells and occurrence of autoantibodies and allergic reactions that may explain some of the manifestations such as fatigue and flu-like symptoms. A number of infectious and environmental exposures have been associated as triggering these changes.

Pain: Headache, facial pain and myalgia are reported symptoms of CFS/ME that may involve altered sensory and/or cognitive processing in the relevant neural pathways.

Sleep disorders: Disordered sleep is a characteristic symptom in CFS/ME including, impaired daily sleep/wake rhythms and disrupted sleep, hypersomnia, insomnia, and secondary problems such as restless legs syndrome.

Applications should seek to understand these mechanisms through the study of cross-disease symptomology, and pathways, in the clinic and/or laboratory. Additionally, this initiative aims to address the current lack of capacity in CFS/ME research, and the need for multidisciplinary teams to tackle the significant research challenges in this area. Proposals submitted to this call must therefore involve partnerships between CFS/ME researchers and established, leading investigators working in relevant areas, but who are new to the CFS/ME field. It is expected that those investigators who are new to CFS/ME research will make a substantial contribution to the programme of work, to enable them to build their own track record in CFS/ME research. The capacity building aspect of the call is focused on bringing new established investigators into CFS/ME research; therefore, applicants may not request PhD studentships as part of this call.

Available funds

Up to £1.5M is available to support research proposals submitted against this call. Subject to the submission of proposals of sufficient research quality, it is anticipated that between 2 and 4 awards will be made.

Eligibility criteria

This call follows standard RCUK eligibility criteria and is open to UK-based researchers, working in partnerships, who can show they will direct the proposed research and be actively engaged in carrying it through. Joint proposals from people in the same or different institutions including non-academic organisations are expected, but one person will be identified as the lead contact for review and administration purposes and is known as the Principal Investigator.

Eligible institutions include UK higher education institutions, Research Council institutes, and eligible Independent Research Organisations (IROs). All IROs listed on the RCUK web page are eligible to apply.

How to apply

Proposals submitted against this call must be costed using the Full Economic Costing (FEC) model. You should submit your proposal using the Research Councils’ Joint electronic Submission (Je-S) System ( Guidance on setting up a Je-S account and on filling out the Je-S forms can be found at:

When adding a new proposal, you should select Council ‘MRC’, document type ‘Standard Proposal’ and the ‘Strategic’ Scheme. On the Project Details page you should select the ‘CFS/ME Research Initiative’ Call. Details of which Research Organisations have registered to use Je-S are available from

Note that clicking ‘submit document’ on your proposal form in Je-S initially submits the proposal to your host organisation’s administration, not to the MRC. Please ensure you allow sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process between submitting your proposal to them and the call closing date. The MRC must receive your application by 4pm on 7 June 2011.

You must submit the following items:

>Case for Support – further guidance on completing your case for support can be found below
>CV for each named researcher
>Justification of Resources Pathways to Impact – guidance from RCUK on completing your Pathways to Impact statement can be found at:

Additionally, you may include a cover letter, any letters of support and/or an Exceptional Costs pro forma if applicable.

Case for support

Applicants must prepare a case for support (maximum 8 pages A4) as part of their application.

Your case for support should contain the following sections, if appropriate:

1. Title

2. Importance of the research

3. Scientific potential

People and track record – this section should include details of which investigator(s) are new to CFS/ME research and how their expertise is relevant to research in this area. Research environment Research plans – in addition to detailed research plans, this section should outline the investigators’ approach to their partnership and clearly indicate which investigator(s) will carry out each aspect of the proposed programme of work.

4. Ethics and research governance

5. Data preservation for sharing

6. Dissemination – plans for dissemination to potential academic beneficiaries should be included here; details of plans for public engagement, exploitation of results and/or dissemination to potential non-academic beneficiaries should be included in your ‘pathways to impact’ statement.

General guidance on preparing your case for support can be found in the MRC Applicants Handbook. Your case for support should indicate how the proposed programme of work meets the aims of the call, particularly outlining what contribution the research will make to increasing understanding of chronic changes related to CFS/ME and how the investigators will work in partnership to deliver the objectives of the proposed work. Additionally, when outlining the skill sets of the investigator group, applicants should highlight which investigator(s) are new to the CFS/ME field and how their experience and expertise will add to the UK CFS/ME research base.

MRC encourages (but does not require) applicants to work in partnership with other funders where appropriate. Depending on the programme of work to be undertaken, applicants may wish to seek cash or in-kind support from charitable and/or industrial partners; details of support from any project partners should be included on the Je-S application form and in the case for support. Applicants will be required to attach a letter of support from any project partner(s) to their application.

Application assessment

Applications will be assessed by expert peer-review and applicants will be given the chance to respond to reviewers’ comments. Applications will be prioritised for funding by a panel chaired by Professor Stephen Holgate which will largely comprise Members from across MRC’s Research Boards (PSMB, NMHB, MCMB and IIB) based on their areas of expertise. Funding decisions will be made by the MRC Population and Systems Medicine Board.

The following general criteria will be used in the assessment of applications:

1. Research quality;

2. Impact – importance, innovation and timeliness of the research and its likely contribution to the CFS/ME research knowledge base;

3. Productivity;

4. Fit to the call:

>Does the proposed work address one or more of the identified priority research areas?
>Does the investigator group include one or more researchers who are new to CFS/ME research?
>Do they have the appropriate skills and expertise to make a positive contribution to the CFS/ME research base in the UK?
>Is the partnership likely to help build capacity in CFS/ME research in the UK?


The key dates are listed below:
Task Date
Launch call 22 February 2011
Submission deadline 7 June 2011
Peer review (external) June 2011 – September 2011
Applicants’ response October 2011
Prioritisation Panel meeting November 2011
Applicants receive notification of outcome November 2011
Awards announced December 2011

This page will be updated with the date of the Prioritisation Panel meeting when it has been confirmed. Applicants will receive notification of the outcome of their proposal shortly after the Prioritisation Panel has met.

If you have a query about the call, contact

5 thoughts on “Medical Research Council announces further details on research funding for ME/CFS”

  1. I can’t remember all the details of previous discussions – is there a good reason that they have to be working in partnerships?

  2. MEA – do we know what criteria they will be using to define the illness to be studied or will be open to the researchers to decide?

    This is critically important in view of the PACE fiasco.

    We need to ensure that the disease Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is under investigation, and therefore strict criteria must be applied to specifically include patients with the hallmark signs and symtoms of neuro-immune disease and post-exertional malaise and to exclude those with pre-exisiting mental health disorders.

    Will the MEA advocate adoption of Canadian Consensus Criteria for patient selection, since this is now available for research as well as for clinical use?

    I am concerned that the MRC is using the term CFS/ME as there is no such disease. This is not a minor matter of semantics, as we are all aware. Paul Burstow recently corrected his mistaken use of this term in Parliament recently – it is important that the MRC changes its terminolgy also to avoid mistakes in research in this area in the recent past.

    This is crucial given that the MRC is aiming to attract new blood into the arena. An example of the dangers of using CFS/ME here, is the inclusion of “psychological” mechanisms.

    Let there be no doubt – there are no psychological causes or symptoms of ME – no more so than in susceptibility to any other viral infection. There may well be psychological EFFECTS arising, as there may be with any other chronic illness – particularly in view of the widespread and long-standing medical ignorance of this disease resulting in medical neglect and abuse in some case, arising from inappropriate medical management of patients or lack of any treatment at all, the loss of income and social exclusion that arises from the EFFECTS of the disease.

    Enough time and money has already been spent (or wasted, according to one’s view) on psychology relating to ME/CFS. The time has come for accpetance that psychology bears no more relevance to ME than to any other disease – in fact less so than some diseases, for example diseases relating to smoking, alcohol, poor nutrition, recreactional drugs, poverty and so on. I reluctantly use this analogy because of the old yuppie flu tag, but psychology really does have no more to do with ME than with the common cold or flu, either in susceptibilty to contracting it in the first place or in so-called perpetuating factors.

    The key perpetuating factor in ME/CFS is the absence of a cure or effective treatment as a result of not following through with promising breakthroughs in biomedical research over the years.

    I hope that prospective biomedical researchers will see that, with a disease that has such multi-systemic effects on the body, there must be a root cause affecting so many of the body’s systems – the last thing we need is a piecemeal approach to analysing inidividual symptoms. We have enough biomedical findings already in the literature to go on from to make the connection – ME is a disease of the central nervous system – we need to be looking at that – and asking what mechanisms can be at work to cause these widespread effects throughout the body – and is there a possibility it can be treated.

    Potential researchers need to understand that ME is like a combination of MS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s – look to the research in those disease areas – what can be learned from there?

    This funding must be directed to ME and not to the psychiatric model of “CFS” that has swallowed up all the funding and the attention to date.

    1. Morning JMBE,

      ‘Myalgic Encephalomyelitis’? Don’t you mean Encephalopathy?

      ‘Encephalomylitis indicates inflammation within the brain and spinal cord – a description for which there is now very limited evidence (Schwartz et al 1994).’ MEA Jan. 2011.

      Or do you think this money should be used to further research Encephalomyelitis just to more thoroughly establish there is very limited evidence?

      Genuinely interested, am not having a poke.

  3. I welcome the further information about what it is exactly the MRC are hoping to attract applications for, and that this will focus primarily on physiological areas.

    I hope that people do apply for grants and that those applications meet with the approval of the MRC.

    I notice that they expect between 2 and 4 awards to be made, so that implies pretty big projects then.

    Hopefully, we shall see some better progress made. Either way though a breakthrough is not guaranteed I appreciate that.

    Professor Holgate and the Committee are again due our thanks, and as a member of that Committee, my thanks also go to Dr Shepherd.

    I don’t know where you find your energy Doctor, but if you have any spare…. 🙂

  4. @jbme

    I too am concerned by their reference to ‘psychological mechanisms’. I too don’t know what ‘cfs/me’ is.

    Am afraid that since the PACE trial results were published my anger at the MRC is renewed and I don’t trust any of them as far as I can throw them.

    I only hope the doctors on the panel without psychiatric leanings will prevail in deciding who gets funding.

Comments are closed.

Shopping Basket