Opening Ceremony in Scotland: Big Data Initiative Set to Make Impact on Health of Society

Published on: 29th February 2016

Pictured: Professor Sir Pete Downes officially opens The Farr Institute Scotland and The Administrative Data Research Centre Scotland with Professor Sir John Savill.

A £20 million project is seeking to harness the power of healthcare and government data to improve the lives of patients and the wider population.

Two major research institutes, involving universities and the NHS, are using healthcare and public authority records to develop health treatments and improve public policy.

They are benefiting from UK funding, led by the Medical Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council, to support cutting edge medical, healthcare and social research aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of individuals and populations in Scotland, the wider UK and overseas.

The Farr Institute Scotland and the Administrative Data Research Centre Scotland (ADRC-S) – which formally open on Monday 29th February – are based at Edinburgh BioQuarter, a partnership between the University of Edinburgh, Scottish Enterprise and NHS Lothian.

Working shoulder-to-shoulder, they are at the forefront of big data – analysing extremely large and complex sets of data to reveal patterns and trends that can provide meaningful information to inform research and decision making.

The Farr Institute Scotland – a collaboration between six Scottish universities and NHS National Services Scotland – is developing procedures to securely curate electronic health records.

These are designed to protect patient confidentiality while providing researchers with datasets to enable new medical discoveries, validation of treatments, and improved NHS healthcare delivery. Researchers will work with the information to develop commercial drugs, diagnostic tests and life-saving medical technology, at a speed and scale not previously possible.

The ADRC-S works with government records, helping researchers to use anonymised data – such as on road accidents or benefit payments – to create a broad picture of society. This helps to track changes in people’s behaviour, such as in response to new policies.

Researchers will be able to combine ADRC data with the Farr Institute’s medical datasets to discover new ways to help individuals, populations and policymakers. Information from multiple sources could overturn established views on how to tackle social and healthcare problems – enabling better health and wellbeing, at reduced economic cost.

Huge, privacy-protected, data sets can be created by curating patient and other population-based data as well as from genetic information from populations.

Professor Sir Pete Downes, Vice Chancellor at the University of Dundee, which leads the Farr Institute Scotland, said: “Scotland and the UK are uniquely poised to use our outstanding data assets in a trustworthy and secure way to make a big difference through research that transforms lives locally and globally. Scotland and the UK is ideally positioned to lead in this new world of data science.”

Professor Andrew Morris, Vice Principal Data Science at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the Farr Institute Scotland, said: “Health systems internationally are challenged to deliver better quality healthcare at reduced cost so we must find new innovative ways, underpinned by cutting edge research and new knowledge, to provide services and treatments that are better and cheaper. To do this requires complete and high quality data at the local, regional and national level, and collaboration between the public, researchers, the NHS, Government and industry. That is what the Farr Institute is all about.”

Professor Chris Dibben, Director of ADRC Scotland, said: “Linking together collections of administrative data can help us to use data intelligently – creating better knowledge for a better society. This is extremely valuable for social and economic research. Our studies have the potential to influence future government policy and to measure how policy decisions change society.”

Shona Robison, Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, said: “Scotland is one of the best places in the world to conduct data-driven research. The Farr Institute and the ADRC, working together, can provide new exciting research opportunities to securely exploit data to improve health.”

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