Policy engagement

The work of the MRC IEU is of direct relevance to policy makers. Our previous work has informed consultations on standardized tobacco packaging and guidelines on the number of cycles of IVF that should be offered to couples seeking to become pregnant.

We will continue to work with policy makers, through existing links with government agencies such as the Department of Health, organisations such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, and the Behavioural Insights Team, and third-sector groups such as Action on Smoking and Health UK, to ensure comprehensive engagement with policy makers.

Case study: IVF and NICE guidelines

Debbie Lawlor's work on predicting live birth success for those undergoing invitro fertilisation (IVF) has informed the guidelines on fertility treatment of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Professor Lawlor has led research that has improved the prediction of live birth success for those undergoing IVF treatment, including research into age, number of embryos transferred and development of the prediction tool IVFpredict (developed along with Professor Scott Nelson at the University of Glasgow) which has been used by over 5.5 million people globally. As a result of her work in this field she was invited in 2012 (?) to be an expert external advisor to the group updating the NICE guidelines, and undertook additional analyses for the economic evaluation that informed these guidelines.

Her work received strong support from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), with the result that both HFEA and NICE now strongly recommend that only one embryo is transferred in women under 40-years and no more than two are transferred in those aged 40 or older.


  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Fertility: assessment and treatment for people with fertility problems. NICE clinical guidelines CG156, February 2013. http://guidance.nice.org.uk/CG156
  • Nelson SM, Lawlor DA (2011). Predicting live birth, preterm and low birth weight infant after in-vitro fertilisation: A prospective study of 144,018 treatment cycles. PLoS-Medicine 2011; 8(1):e1000386. Doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000386

Case study: Standardised tobacco packaging

Ground-breaking experimental research at the University of Bristol into the effectiveness of standardised (also known as ‘plain’) tobacco packaging has been strongly influencing international tobacco policy and legislation since 2011.

Work by Marcus Munafò’s lab was the first to show using direct, objective measures that standardised tobacco packaging modifies relevant behaviours. Australia became the first country in the world to implement standardised packaging legislation in 2012 after reviewing the University of Bristol research in their High Court in response to legal challenges from the tobacco industry.

That same year, the European Commission’s update of the Tobacco Products Directive cited the same research to support the claim that standardised packaging would strengthen the effectiveness of graphic health warnings on tobacco products. The UK government has also used the University of Bristol research to inform the consultation on standardised packaging of tobacco products.


  • Plain packaging directs attention toward health warnings in adults: Professor Munafò and his colleagues used eye-tracking technology to measure the eye movements of adults, and in 2011 showed that non-smokers and weekly smokers pay more attention to health warnings on plain packs compared with branded packs. Munafò, M.R., Roberts, N., Bauld, L. & Leonards, U. (2011). Addiction, 106 (8): 1505-1510.
  • Plain packaging also influences attention of non-established adolescent smokers:In 2013, an extension to the 2011 study looked at adolescents aged 14-19 years and found that young people experimenting with smoking and weekly smokers paid more attention to health warnings on plain packaging. Maynard, O.M., Munafò, M.R. & Leonards, U. (2013). Addiction, 108 (2):413-419.

These results are relevant for public health, as increased attention towards health warnings might increase the likelihood of health warnings being read and understood, subsequently affecting smoking behaviour. The research suggests that legislation standardising cigarette packaging could be an effective tobacco control measure.

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