The Wellcome Trust, Britain's largest medical research charity, has announced a Pounds 5 million initiative to boost research into the social, ethical and public policy implications of biomedical advances.
The trust's new "Medicine in Society" programme aims to fund high-quality research looking at the implications for society of mainly, but not exclusively, advances in genetics and neurosciences.
It comes at a time when biomedical research, through initiatives such as the Human Genome Project, promises to deliver huge benefits to society, while also producing unprecedented moral questions.
Launching the initiative, programme manager Sue Barnes said: "As one of the leading organisations funding cutting-edge research, the trust acknowledges the wider potential impact of that research on society. At the moment people like those in the Human Genetics Advisory Commission are having to make decisions about the likely effects of new technologies, but they have no research to draw on that formalises policy. This programme hopes to address that."
She added that the research should be directed towards policy formulation, being of direct practical relevance rather than blue sky in nature.
The initiative is open to researchers at all levels. It is aimed at social scientists and scientists, but also practising medical clinicians who in their every day jobs may experience the effects of biomedical advances.
The other arm of the Pounds 15-million programme aims to foster better public understanding of the new biomedical advances with innovative forms of public consultation and public debate. It will also address how well professional education prepares health professionals for dealing with and communicating these developments.
More details of the Medicine in Society programme, including how to apply, can be found on the Wellcome Trust web site at www.wellcome.ac.uk.