Physics of Life Network+ (PoLNet3)

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Physics


The 'Physics of Life' (PoL) is both a current Grand Challenge research theme for EPSRC, and (since 2018) a priority topic for UKRI Strategic, Research Fund. The growing UK Physics of Life community has been supported since 2013 by two successive Network+ grant, demonstrating a growing and potentially sustainable programme of research. This, third phase of the Network has been stimulated by five evidenced opportunities:

(1) The hugely over-subscribed and high-quality response to the first call for major PoL grant
(2) The continuous demand for workshops on life-science/physical science topics, and from people newly-engaged in the Network.
(3) The increased opportunity and interest in biomedical/physics collaborations, including the participation of MRC in the UKRI SRF, the expression of interest by the Rosetrees Foundation in co-supporting PolNet, and the relevance of a number of pressing biomedical challenges
(4) The growth in demand from the UK ECR community for places on the PoLNet summer schools.
(5) The new 'Technology Touching Life' (TTL) cross-council initiative.

PolNet3 will respond to these challenges by:

Supporting the existing and future cluster of PoL UKRI projects by networking and punp-priming research, and working to mainstream UK national PoL funding.
Stimulating a regular series of agenda-setting and community-creating workshops
Expanding engagement with PoLNet to a wider medical science community, with the support of relevant funders (MRC, Rosetrees, CRUK, Wellcome) and the TTL networks.
Continuing to provide graduate interdisciplinary PoL education through summer schools and other activities, including the development of an ECR-community management role.
Working to engage a wider mathematical and computational community of researchers.
Developing stronger international links to other such networks worldwide

Planned Impact

As well as academic beneficiaries and the UK research funding community, where constructive impact is anticipated, there is considerable impact anticipated in clinical research and in industry.

Major funders of clinical research including the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation increasingly recognise the key role that physics plays, not only in developing novel technologies, but also in bringing the physics paradigm to bear on major medical and biological research questions. This is exemplified by the NIHR Physical Sciences Oncology initiative ( and the more recent Cancer Research UK Multidisciplinary Award Scheme.

There is also an increasing experience within related UK industry in a number of sectors (personal care, pharmaceuticals, medical engineering products, instrument manufacturing, etc.) that bringing the methodologies and techniques of physics together with biology can be transformation in developing new business and improving existing products.

A key feature of the translational strategy of PoLNet2 will be the inclusion of clinical research funders, clinical academics (drawing on their extensive clinical researcher networks funded by NIHR and others and institutes such as JIC and Crick) and industry. The intention is to develop translational research programmes linked to key themes in PoLNET2 including leveraging funding from industry for multidisciplinary focussed workshop events linked to cognate strategies (for example, Cancer Research UK "Grand Challenges")

PolNet3 will develop the portfolio of industry partners established in PoLNet2 by building on existing industry networks where appropriate; for example, those available via the Innovate UK Precision medicine Catapult and the NIHR Health Technology and Diagnostic Evidence Cooperatives and Biomedical Research Centres (the latter with an estimated portfolio of more than 500 companies ranging from SMEs, biotech to major pharma and medical technology companies.

Major strategic infrastructure investments in linked and curated molecular and deep phenotypic data sets, including, for example, the MRC Centre for Medical Bioinformatics in Leeds and the Farr and Turing Institutes and the York BioMedical Institute offer the prospect of building and testing theoretical models developed by PoLNet3 partners.


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