14 June 2018

Harnessing data science to address healthcare challenges

The challenge

Across the country data is gathered within biological, clinical, social and environmental settings, to aid research to improve health. This data is hugely valuable but is often viewed in isolation. To harness the full power of this data, it is necessary to bridge the gap between the currently distinct disciplines of bioinformatics, that focusses on biological and genetic data, and health informatics, that draws on clinical data.

Facing the challenge

Through investment from a brand-new institute – Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) – colleagues across the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, and UCL have formed a partnership with Imperial College London, King’s College London, NHS and industrial partners to address challenging healthcare issues through the use of data science.

HDR UK is a joint investment led by the Medical Research Council. It has initially awarded £30 million across six sites nationally. Our London partnership will form a collaborative research community with the five other successful sites:

  • Cambridge – Wellcome Sanger Institute, European Bioinformatics Institute, University of Cambridge
  • Midlands – University of Birmingham, University of Leicester, University of Nottingham, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, University of Warwick;
  • Oxford – University of Oxford
  • Scotland – University of Edinburgh, University of Aberdeen, University of Dundee, University of Glasgow, University of St Andrews, University of Strathclyde
  • Wales/Northern Ireland – Swansea University, Queen’s University Belfast

Each site has world-class expertise; a track record in using health data to derive new knowledge, scientific discovery and insight; and works in close partnership with NHS bodies and the public to translate research findings into benefits for patients and populations. This award will build on the success of existing major data science and computer infrastructure investments led by the London site, including eMedLab, UK Med-Bio and the Farr Institute.

Progress highlights

From April 2018, the six sites will work collaboratively as foundation partners in Health Data Research UK to harness health and biomedical data at scale across the UK, and develop and apply cutting edge data science approaches in order to address the most pressing health research challenges facing the public.

This is the first phase of investment to establish HDRUK, and the London site has also recently been awarded 15 UKRI Innovation / Rutherford Fund Fellowships for HDR UK. A further £24 million will be invested in upcoming activities, including a Future Talent Programme and work to address targeted data research challenges through additional partnership sites.

HDR UK is committed to the highest ethical standards and will work with experts in public engagement to ensure the public voice is central to its activity. It will work at scale and forge national and international partnerships to deliver:

  • New scientific discovery
  • A vibrant training environment for the next generation of data scientists
  • The creation of a trustworthy UK-wide research and innovation ecosystem for health data research.

Professor Harry Hemingway (UCL Institute of Health Informatics) said:

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to bring together London’s best universities in data science for health. As part of HDR UK, our new pan London collaborative partnership comprises university, NHS and industrial partners; together we will solve more science problems and generate more benefits to patients than we could have done by working separately.

“To deliver this vision we will work with a strong team of Directors from Imperial (Professor Paul Elliott), King’s College London (Professor Tim Hubbard), London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (Professor Liam Smeeth) and Queen Mary University of London (Professor David van Heel).”