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Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute


Professor Sanjay Sinha and his team have just been announced (28 September) as one of the four world-class teams to receive a share of £18 million to pursue transformational bioscience research programmes.

The four teams will tackle bold challenges at the frontiers of bioscience, combining world-class ideas, people and transformative technologies with the aim of uncovering fundamental rules of life.

Harnessing team science

By taking a coordinated, interdisciplinary approach, the teams hope to make major breakthroughs that would not be possible through individual research efforts alone.

The challenges the teams hope to address include:

  • elucidating the rules that govern microbial communities
  • determining how the human heart develops
  • resolving the link between structure and function of cell-surface sugar biomolecules
  • understanding the mechanisms of bacterial cell wall synthesis

The investment from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) strategic Longer Larger (sLoLa) grants programme aims to catalyse and convene the critical mass of research effort needed to address significant fundamental questions in bioscience.


Human heart development project

Led by Professor Sanjay Sinha, University of Cambridge.

The heart is made up of lots of different cells. How all these different cell types get produced, how they come together and how they communicate with one another to form a healthy human heart is not fully clear at present.

Most of what we currently know about heart development comes from work in model organisms such as the mouse and zebrafish. However, despite morphological similarities, the human heart differs to other vertebrate hearts in developmental timelines, physiology, and cellular function.

This makes it essential to understand which of the key molecular events that regulate heart formation are truly conserved across vertebrates, and which are human-specific.

This project will combine state-of-the-art single-cell and spatial transcriptomics using cutting-edge bioinformatics to generate a heart developmental atlas at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution.

The team will then leverage this atlas alongside stem cell studies to determine the critical molecular regulators of events during human heart development. Then how these may differ to other vertebrates, and how scientists may better recreate the heart using stem cells.

These studies will transform our understanding of cardiac development in humans. Moreover, they will provide a potential template for similar studies of other major organs in the body.

This project is a collaboration between University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. It is led by Sanjay Sinha in collaboration with Vincent Knight-Schrijver, Paul Riley, Filipa Simões, Sarah Teichmann and Richard Tyser.


A pivotal step for frontier bioscience

Professor Guy Poppy, Interim Executive Chair at BBSRC, said:

The latest investment by BBSRC’s sLoLa award programme represents a pivotal step in advancing frontier bioscience research. These four world-class teams are poised to unravel the fundamental rules of life, employing interdisciplinary approaches to tackle bold challenges at the forefront of bioscience. By fostering collaboration and innovation, we aim to catalyse ground-breaking discoveries with far-reaching implications for agriculture, health, biotechnology, the green economy and beyond.


About the sLoLa programme

Advancing our understanding of the rules of life is a key priority as outlined in BBSRC’s strategic delivery plan.

The large-scale support offered via the sLoLa awards programme enables world-class teams to pursue innovative avenues of multidisciplinary investigation over the longer timeframes necessary to realise transformational change.

By encouraging researchers to pursue bold and creative questions, BBSRC aims to catalyse exciting fundamental bioscience discoveries that may have far reaching implications for agriculture, health, biotechnology and the green economy.


Read about the other BBSRC funded projects 

Find the full press release with details of the projects here.


Rules of life in microbial communities

Led by Professor Sophie Nixon, The University of Manchester



Led by Professor Cathy Merry, University of Nottingham


Bacterial cell wall formation

Led by Professor David Roper, University of Warwick


Image Credit: nicolas_, E+ via Getty Images

This press release is adapted from the BBSRC release here