Press release

Fund launched to seed new thinking in sustaining the future of health

The Wellcome Trust today launches a global funding scheme to seed research into the impact of a changing world on the future of human health.

With the ever-rising global population estimated to reach nine billion people by 2050, the scheme responds to the pressing challenge of ensuring that everyone can live a healthy life, while meeting present and future ecological and societal needs in a sustainable and economically viable way.

The Sustaining Health call will support pilot research projects to investigate the issues at stake, as well as the impact of our behaviours as individuals and societies. The ultimate goal is to develop fresh approaches to prevent and mitigate the risks to human health.

Urbanisation is advancing at an unremitting pace, with the majority of the world's populations now living in cities while rural communities are becoming increasingly marginalised. At the same time, the world is living in a global nutrition crisis, with a dual problem of hunger and obesity.

Undernutrition threatens the health of millions of the world's poor, while dietary choices and lifestyles are contributing to an unprecedented burden of obesity and chronic diseases. Environmental and climate changes are affecting food security, access to clean water and sanitation, population migration, the incidence of natural disasters, and disease spread.

An initial fund of £5 million has been committed to launch the scheme, and the aim is to build research capacity for interdisciplinary research in this area that will be eligible to seek larger-scale funding from the Trust's existing biomedical and translational funding programmes.

Proposals with the potential to 'unlock the power of data' are particularly welcomed, recognising the value of the explosion of data - such as mobile phone data, retail store cards, public transport and insurance records - in the public and private domains. Mobile phones are already being used to track the spread of emerging diseases. Combining these data with health, climate and environmental projections could provide a powerful resource for better understanding and predicting human behaviour and likely health outcomes of different environments.

Dr Ted Bianco, Acting Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "Our world is changing. A burgeoning population, relentless urbanisation and changing climate are expected to have significant consequences for the health of humanity, yet the evidence base to inform policy to meet these challenges remains limited.

"We need to find the levers for change that will drive the agenda to find solutions to these complex problems, for the sake of our children and future generations to come. We believe this journey begins with better defining the problem and the power to unlock human data will be of paramount importance on the road to meeting these challenges. Understanding the factors that influence lifestyle decisions and human behaviour at the individual and population level are crucial for achieving this goal, to improve public health for today and tomorrow."

Connecting the environment, nutrition and health was identified as one of five major challenges for the research community in the Wellcome Trust's ten-year strategic plan, launched in 2010. Examples of projects already funded in this area include: the Insect Pollinators Initiative, investigating the decline of honeybees and other pollinating insects and the consequences for agricultural crops; the Access to Nutrition Index, assessing the nutrition-related commitments, performance and disclosure practices of the 25 largest global food and beverage manufacturers; and research at the University of Cambridge to understand the genetics of appetite and obesity and linked behaviours.

Under the new scheme, researchers can apply for up to £250 000 support for up to two years to kick-start pilot projects in the areas of behaviour change, global nutrition, health impacts of climate change and ecological public health. Extraordinary projects will be eligible to apply for up to £500 000. The scheme is open to both academic and not-for-profit research institutions and commercial companies.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.