Decisions, Decisions…

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The day finally arrived on 11 April 2014 for our biannual Biomedical Research Advisory Panel (BRAP) Meeting. This important date in our research calendar is when grant funding decisions are discussed before being put forward to our Board of Trustees for approval.

But before we get to the meeting, there is a lot of preparation that is needed. As you are aware from previous blog posts, applications go through various stages of review, including summary review, invites for full applications and external review. Before the meeting itself there is yet another stage of review for the applications, which is known as internal review. This might seem a bit ‘admin-heavy’, but since we are only able to fund a quarter of such a wide variety of proposals, ranging from cell-based studies to clinical research, we need to be confident that we’re funding the ‘best of the best’. With so many new ideas, ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’ can be a difficult and time-consuming process!

The Final Stage of Review

For internal review of the applications, each scientific member of the BRAP is allocated two or three applications (depending on the number received) to review and grade before the meeting. This allows us to have an idea of how the applications fair with regards to strengths and weaknesses. Each member then presents their allocated applications to the rest of the panel at the meeting.

“I always look forward to hearing each application presented by one of the scientists on our panel, they always seem to be able to get to the nub of the issues that arise.”

– Julie Draper, Trustee BRAP member 


Three weeks before the meeting all the paperwork, which includes applications, external reviews and applicants’ feedback, are collated together and sent out to each member of the panel, giving plenty of time for them to prepare. The panel also has the responsibility of monitoring progress of the projects we already fund, so the paperwork also includes numerous annual report reviews and details of recently published research papers.

The Meeting

Our nine scientists and two trustee members, along with members of the Research Development team, meet to discuss all the applications received. Our trustee members are there to represent people living with MND and to make sure our governance is being followed.

DSC_0203“This was my first BRAP meeting, I was really excited to see the number and quality of the proposals and hearing the thoughts of our expert panel. I didn’t hope to understand all the science but I hung onto my ‘A’ level biology.”

Sally Light, Chief Executive

This year we received a total of 22 extremely high quality applications, giving the panel a great deal of science to discuss during the meeting! Each application was discussed and then scored by the panel. The scoring system works on a grade of A, B or C: each grade is collectively agreed by the panel during the meeting. The panel then individually score each application depending on the grade, eg an A grade is scored between 3 – 6, a B grade between 1 – 4 and a C grade is not scored at all. Each of the panel members’ scores is confidential and not disclosed to the other panel members. The panel has no financial authority – the highest scoring applications are then submitted to our Board of Trustees who make the final decision, based on availability of funds.

Dr Janine Kirby

“It was great to see the wide range of high quality research which is being proposed by MND researchers, both within the UK and from collaborators worldwide………..All cake sales, sponsored runs and trips to the arctic circle are greatly appreciated. These and all the other fundraising events allow us to continue to make progress in understanding the disease and thereby devise therapeutic strategies to tackle MND”

– Dr Janine Kirby, BRAP member, University of Sheffield

The team would like to say a big thank you to all the BRAP panel members for all their hard work during each Dr Brian Dickie, Director of Research Developmentfunding round, and for all they do for the Association. We would also like to thank the researchers across the world who give up their time to complete external reviews on our applications.

In recent years, we have seen not only an upturn in the number and diversity of research applications, but also a huge leap in the quality of the science, driven by advances in technology and more and more researchers working on MND. We rarely see a bad research proposal nowadays – this may give the panel a real headache in deciding what and what not to support, but that’s a great problem to have!”

– Dr Brian Dickie, Director of Research Development

More information:

For further information on our application processes please visit our website or see our Research Governance Overview. You can also see the current list of research projects funded by the Association in our ‘Research we fund’ information sheet.