Our projects Research

How does ME Research UK decide which research projects to fund?

The principal aim of ME Research UK is to commission and fund high-quality scientific (biomedical) investigation into the causes, consequences and treatment of ME/CFS. 

Therefore, it is essential that all funding applications submitted to the charity undergo a rigorous review process. Within this, the science, research methodology, and cost of proposed projects are considered in detail, alongside the research outcome’s potential benefit to people with ME/CFS.

The overall goals of the review process are to: 

  1. Identify applications that are of high quality, demonstrate value for money, and show clear potential benefit to people with ME/CFS.
  2. Maintain an objective, fair and consistent science-based review process throughout.
  3. Consider both scientific methodology and how proposed research would expand our understanding of ME/CFS and potentially benefit people with the disease.
  4. Ensure funded studies align with the principal aims of ME Research UK.

To guarantee that the review process not only assesses the science, but also what is important to people with ME/CFS, all submitted applications are reviewed by ME Research UK’s Science Committee.

The members of the Science Committee (some of whom are external to the charity) include experienced scientists, experts in ME/CFS research, and those with lived experience of the disease.

In order to assess the quality of proposed projects, ME Research UK submits all applications to ‘peer-review’. This is where researchers with expertise – such as knowledge of a complex methodology, or experience in a certain area of ME/CFS research – are invited to review grant applications. Peer reviewers are external to both the charity and the Science Committee, and provide impartial feedback on the quality of submitted proposals using a standardised assessment system. Within this feedback, peer reviewers are asked to make a recommendation to the Science Committee as to whether an application should be funded or not.

The application and review process

The application process

Step 1: Applicants submit an outline research proposal

Applicants submit a short outline of their proposed research project alongside the  associated costs.

In the outline proposal, applicants are asked to:

  • Provide a brief summary of the proposed project.
  • Explain how the research would expand our understanding of ME/CFS.
  • Describe the potential outcomes of the project – importantly, including a description of the benefits to people with ME/CFS.

The applicants are also asked to provide information on:

  • The title of the proposed project. 
  • The main researchers on the study team.
  • The Institution(s) at which the research would be carried out.
  • Which area of research the project relates to.
  • How long the researchers expect the study to take.

In the guidance provided to potential applicants, we signpost to the UK ME/CFS ‘Researcher toolkit’, which was produced as part of the work surrounding the Department for Health and Social Care’s Delivery Plan process. The toolkit contains information such as resources for developing high quality proposals, and guides to embedding patient and public involvement.

Step 2: Outline proposals received by the closing deadline are reviewed by ME Research UK’s Science Committee

All outline proposals submitted by the closing deadline are reviewed by ME Research UK’s Science Committee.

ME Research UK’s Science Committee is made up of individuals who are internal to the charity as well as those who are external. The Committee includes members:

  • With relevant research, and methodological expertise.
  • Who are currently active in ME/CFS research.
  • With lived experience of ME/CFS.

Step 3: Successful applicants are invited to submit a full grant application

Applicants whose outline applications are successful are invited to complete a full grant application form.

On this form, the applicants are asked to provide:

  • A summary of the project capable of being understood by a non-scientific audience (a lay summary).
  • A detailed description of the proposed project, including:
    • Background information detailing why the proposed project is important in relation to existing research.
    • Project aims.
    • Research design/methods, including how people with ME/CFS will be identified (i.e. which diagnostic criteria will be used to determine who has the disease).
    • Project schedule – start and end dates.
    • The significance of the research, including its potential benefit to people with ME/CFS over the next five years.
  • Clear justification for the application, including:
    • Whether it is a pilot study or research into a novel aspect of ME/CFS.
    • Evidence that the project can realistically be carried out at the host institution.
    • Evidence justifying the need to purchase any expensive equipment, or for expensive salaries.
    • Relevance of the project to the charitable purposes of ME Research UK. 
  • A detailed summary of the financial award requested, and what it would be spent on.

Step 4: Full grant applications received by the closing deadline are reviewed in detail by external peer reviewers and ME Research UK’s Science Committee

  • All full grant applications received by the closing deadline undergo external peer-review, and are then considered by members of the Science Committee.
    • Peer-reviewers are invited based on their research and methodological expertise.
  • During this review process, applicants may be asked to respond to queries put forward by external peer reviewers and by ME Research UK’s Science Committee. 
  • Once these reviews have been carried out, ME Research UK’s Science Committee meets to discuss all full grant applications, and makes a decision on the project(s) (if any) which it will recommend to the Board of Charity Trustees.

Step 5: Science Committee makes recommendations with final funding decisions being made by the Board of Charity Trustees

  • ME Research UK’s Science Committee makes recommendations to the Board of Charity Trustees providing:
    • A summary of the proposed research, and expected outcome(s) – including the potential benefit to people with ME/CFS.
    • The significance of the proposed research – the importance of the project in relation to the current research landscape, and any novel aspects.
    • Who the lead applicant is, and where they are based.
    • The project’s cost and timeframe.
    • A summary of recommendations from the Science Committee and external peer reviewers.
  • The Board of Charity Trustees makes a final decision on which application(s) are awarded funding (if any).
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