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TRDF: Transformative Research Technologies

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Support for early-stage development of cutting edge, high-impact research technologies. Co-funded by EPSRC and MRC

Medical Research Council website

Call status: Closed
Previous call: 11 October 2017 - 5 December 2017


The latest developments in technologies and computational tools continue to revolutionise life sciences research. The Tools and Resources Development Fund (TRDF) aims to pump prime the next generation of cutting-edge enabling research technologies with a potential for transformative impact in life sciences research (both biological and biomedical). A fast-track, light touch peer review process will operate to enable researchers to respond rapidly to emerging challenges and opportunities.

2017 TRDF

There will only be a single TRDF call in 2017, supporting instrumentation, tools, and software relevant to Technology Touching Life. The call is intended to pump prime development of early stage research technologies for discovery research in the life sciences. The call has an indicative total budget up to £3.5 million, subject to the quality of the applications received. The budget includes significant co-funding from EPSRC and MRC as part of our commitment to collaborative working through Technology Touching Life (TTL).

Applications should be between six and eighteen months duration and are not expected to exceed £150,000 (£187,000 fEC). All applications must have a start date no earlier than 1 July 2018.

Further information is available in the guidance notes and FAQs. For any enquiries please see below for contact details.

Please note: we anticipate the call may receive a high level of interest. Prospective applicants should consider carefully whether their proposal constitutes an exciting, original, early stage project and be able to clearly articulate why the proposal is in line with the scope of the call.


The aim of the call is to support the early-stage development of cutting edge, high-impact research technologies essential to sustaining the vibrancy of life sciences discovery research in the UK. We are partnering with EPSRC and MRC in the 2017 call to specifically encourage proposals relevant to Technology Touching Life (TTL), a BBSRC, EPSRC and MRC joint initiative to foster interdisciplinary research into innovative and potentially disruptive technological capabilities that will drive world-leading basic discovery research in the life sciences (both biological and biomedical).

TTL-relevant research is expected to focus on research into the development of novel techniques and technologies based on new advances in fundamental engineering and physical sciences, with clear identification of appropriate challenges in life sciences discovery research that technology would help address in the short-medium term. This includes technologies with potential broad utility across both biological and biomedical research communities, as well as technologies that may only have utility within the biological sciences.

While applications may be focused on development of the technology within a particular scientific context, applicants are expected to identify a range of potential life sciences research challenges the technology could help address, with appropriate pathways to impact. The focus of the call is pre-competitive early stage technologies for research purposes rather than translational projects, though some technologies may have longer term potential for use in applied contexts. Industry collaboration is welcome if appropriate to the application.

Applicants are strongly advised to contact us if they are unsure whether their application would fit the remit of the call.

Applications - what is suitable?

This call intends to support small and short 'high-risk/high reward' pilot studies directed towards development of a new technology, particularly where little to no preliminary data exists. The outcome of the application does not necessarily need to be a fully-fledged tool, but could be publication of proof of concept, or production of a prototype for further development.

Applications are expected to focus on one or more of the following:

  • New advances in engineering and physical sciences research that have the potential to result in innovative and potentially disruptive technological capabilities. Such applications must aim to establish proof of concept and identify a clear trajectory towards a new life sciences research technology in the short term
  • Development of technologies that will provide new research capabilities with applicability to a range of life sciences research problems and/or communities
  • Innovative improvements to current technological capabilities that deliver a step change in aspects such as accuracy, precision, resolution, throughput, and breadth of application to facilitate new research discoveries.

Additionally, the call supports:

  • development of software tools and algorithms to address key data analysis and modelling challenges in life sciences research that demonstrate genuine innovation and originality, as well as potential utility.

All applications are expected to outline how the research might deliver a substantial improvement versus current state-of-the-art and how the project could broadly enable new avenues of life sciences discovery research. Applicants must outline the extent of the potential impact outside of their own specific research programme.

Exclusions - what is not suitable?

The call does not support:

  • platform technologies that are generically applicable to multiple research domains, rather than life sciences research
  • applications with a focus on answering a research question instead of developing cutting-edge technology to do so. These grants could be better suited for responsive mode
  • incremental adaptations/improvements:
    • of technologies where previous proof-of-concept has already been demonstrated, including applications with existing technologies already in use for comparable areas of life sciences.
    • of existing software that does not provide innovative new functionality or significant performance improvements
  • medical/clinical devices (being developed for end-point clinical utility rather than basic research purposes), healthcare technologies (including biomedical engineering for diagnostic or therapeutic application) and healthcare/biomedical informatics (focussed on patient or other clinical data)
  • large scale infrastructure, or direct application of off-the-shelf technology to research
  • long-term support and maintenance of community databases (such applications may be suitable for the Bioinformatics and Biological Resources (BBR) Fund)
  • applications that exceed the cost and duration limits described for this call.

Applicants are strongly advised to contact us if they are unsure whether their application would be suitable for the call.

Fast-track, light touch assessment

We reserve the right to reject applications, without reference to peer review, which are deemed to fall outside the remit and scope (including the financial scope) of this call.

Applications that fit the remit of the call will be assessed through a single stage, fast-track panel assessment process, so that the high-risk exploratory ideas and novel technologies can be rapidly tested and/or challenged. The streamlined nature of the assessment will use a broadly-based, multi-disciplinary panel with appropriate expertise.

Please note:

  • applications will be assessed only by the expert panel
  • written reports from additional referees will not be obtained
  • the panel will evaluate the applications against the criteria for assessment (see below) and provide the funders with a recommended rank-ordered list of applications
  • applicants should ensure that sufficient details of their expertise and track record, proposed project, approaches and methods are provided within the case for support to enable the application to be assessed by scientists with relevant but not necessarily specialist expertise
  • feedback will be provided to all applicants within three months of being notified of the panel's decision.

Assessment criteria

The assessment of applications will reflect the scope of the fund and applications will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • Scientific excellence
    • broader novelty, adventurousness and potential utility of the proposed research technology
    • significant potential for broader impact on the life science community
  • Fit to the scope of the call
  • Economic and social impact
  • Timeliness and promise
  • Industrial and stakeholder relevance
  • Value for money
  • Staff training potential.

If an application does not sufficiently address these criteria the assessment panel will not view it favourably.


This call for applications is open to all institutions normally eligible for BBSRC managed-mode calls, which includes:

  • HEIs
  • Strategically funded institutes
  • Independent Research Organisations (IROs) as approved by RCUK.

For the categories of eligible organisations see our grants guide, section two and for a list of IROs see the RCUK eligibility guidance.

All applicants must be eligible to apply for BBSRC funding. Details of the eligibility criteria can be found in our grants guide, section three.

We note the significant contribution of staff such as technical researchers and Research Software Engineers to projects typically represented in the TRDF call and therefore supports recognition of their contributions and encourages applicants to cost them appropriately on applications. This includes staff in equivalent roles with other job titles. For queries about eligibility, please contact us before submitting your application.

How to apply

This call is closed to applications.

Applications should be submitted through the Je-S system by 5 December 2017, 16:00. Applicants should select the following from the Je-S menus:

  • Select New Document
  • Select Council: BBSRC
  • Select Document Type: Standard Proposal
  • Select Scheme: Standard
  • Select Call/Type/Mode: 2017 Tools and Resources Development Fund
  • Select ‘Create Document’.

Applications involving two or more Research Organisations should be submitted via a single Je-S form.

Please note that all applications must have a start date no earlier than 1 July 2018.

We advise applicants to read our grants guide before completing their application and to consult the guidance notes (below) for detailed guidance on how to apply.


EPSRC and MRC will observe the assessment process and nominate panel members.

Complementary funding mechanisms

The TRDF call is a small grants scheme and is not suitable for applications where the Research Council cost is greater than £150,000 (£187,000 fEC). Applicants are strongly advised to resource projects appropriately to achieve the proposed objectives, and to justify these costs.

Potential applicants are advised of the following alternative schemes that may be suitable for projects meeting the scientific criteria of the TRDF call but exceeding the cost and/or duration limitations of TRDF projects:

  • Responsive mode grants are awarded in response to unsolicited research applications in any area relevant to BBSRC's mission. Research projects funded under responsive mode, including projects under the “Technology Development for the Biosciences” priority area, are awarded no more than £2 million fEC and can last up to five years. There are three annual responsive mode calls.
  • Research applications aligned to the scope of Technology Touching Life are also welcome through the responsive/standard mode schemes of BBSRC, EPSRC and MRC. More information is available on the TTL ‘Information for applicants’ page.


Stage Date
Call opens 11 October 2017
Application deadline 5 December 2017, 16:00
Panel meeting 6-7 March 2018
Earliest start date 1 July 2018

For enquiries relating to the call please see the contact details below.

Panel membership

  • Professor Paul Smith – Cardiff University (Chair)
  • Professor Claire Eyers – University of Liverpool (Deputy Chair)
  • Professor Paul Beard – University College London
  • Dr Karl Burgess – University of Glasgow
  • Professor Steve Conlan – Swansea University
  • Professor Karen Faulds – University of Strathclyde
  • Professor Franca Fraternali – King’s College London
  • Dr Andrew French – University of Nottingham
  • Dr Sarah Harris – University of Leeds
  • Dr Ricardo Henriques – University College London
  • Professor Rob Krams – Queen Mary University of London
  • Professor Mark Leake – University of York
  • Dr Sylvia McLain – University of Oxford
  • Professor Vincent Moulton – University of East Anglia
  • Professor Magnus Rattray – University of Manchester
  • Professor Maya Topf – Birkbeck University
  • Professor Ed Tate – Imperial College London
  • Dr Peter O’Toole – University of York
  • Professor Al Brown – University of Aberdeen

Awarded Grants

23 projects that have been funded under the 2017 TRDF call are as follows:

  • Democratising Live-Cell Adaptive Super-Resolution Microscopy based on SRRF, Ricardo Henriques, University College London
  • Cellular Force Microscope, Jamie Hobbs, University of Sheffield
  • Direct labelling of proteins using Affimer-conjugate warheads for imaging, Darren Tomlinson, University of Leeds
  • Selective Nanobrush Sensors (SNS) for Label-free Diagnosis of Neurodegenerative Disorders, Aleksander Ivanov, Imperial College London
  • Enabling precision distance measurements in long RNAs. Edward Anderson, University of Oxford
  • Multiplex Bioorthogonal Labelling of Nucleic Acids: A Tool for Super-Resolution Imaging, Nick Gilbert, University of Edinburgh
  • Two Dimensional Mass Spectrometry in a Linear Ion Trap, Peter O’Connor, University of Warwick
  • Ultra-Sensitive and Ultra-Fast Absorption Spectrometer for Micro-Droplet-based Enzyme Evolution Experiments, Frank Vollmer, University of Exeter
  • New software for nanopore based diagnostics and surveillance, Richard Leggett, Earlham Institute
  • New Technology for High-Performance and High-Capacity Bio-separations: Protein Purification using "Hydrophobic Water" Solvent Systems, Peter Nockemann, Queen’s University of Belfast
  • PhosphoX-db: A web-based bioinformatics platform for studying non-canonical phosphorylation, Andrew Jones, University of Liverpool
  • Gene-drive system for efficient chloroplast transformation, Katalin Kovacs, University of Nottingham
  • Noninvasive, ultrasound-mediated viral delivery of genes for ontogenetic study of brain function, Simon Schultz, Imperial College London
  • Mechanically Interfacing with Biology via Piezoelectric Nanowires, Sohini Kar-Narayan, University of Cambridge
  • Development of single-cell sequencing technology for microbial populations, Neil Hall, Earlham Institute
  • An Aqueous Scanning Thermal Microscope for nanoscale thermal biology, Phillip Dobson, University of Glasgow
  • Cellular Phenotype sequencing (CePh-seq): Decoding the morphological and molecular age-related phenotypes of single cells, Graeme Whyte, Heriot-Watt University
  • Functional Phenotype Flow Cytometer, Catalin Chimerel, University of Exeter
  • Molecular relativity: tracking single molecule movement relative to cell structures, Susan Cox, King’s College London
  • Combatting antimicrobial resistance through new software for natural product discovery, Simon Rogers, University of Glasgow
  • Exploring magnetically aligned bilayers as a novel tool for membrane protein crystallisation, Ioannis Vakonakis, University of Oxford
  • Artificial Intelligence Tools For Automatic Single Molecule Analysis, Richard Barrett-Jolley, University of Liverpool
  • A label-free tool to unravel the dynamics of lipid bilayers containing single membrane proteins: iGOR microscopy, Paola Borri, Cardiff University


Tools and resources development fund

Please contact us for enquiries relating to the call, as well as for enquiries relating to alternative funding routes for technology development projects that do not fit within the parameters of this call.

Related calls: multidisciplinary research technologies