This announcement follows an internal call for applications in 2018 within the Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) community.  The aim was to create a novel UK-wide research programmes that capitalised on HDR UK’s unique “One Institute” structure and that would help achieve our mission – to unite the UK’s health data to make discoveries that improve people’s live – and bring together colleagues across our six sites who have diverse research interests and a common vision.

Following a rigorous selection process, which involved matchmaking projects and teams with similar aims, we are delighted to announce the three successful projects, which will get underway this autumn and expected to complete by March 2023 or sooner.

HDR UK National Multimorbidity Resource

This work brings together datasets from six regions, which hold anonymised information on over 10 million people to explore multimorbidity in the UK at a scale never done before. People are living longer but it is now common for them to have more than one disease or condition, known as multimorbidity. Researchers, alongside patients and the public, will agree what diseases and conditions to study.  The UK-wide teams will then find out more about what diseases and conditions are found together, how they develop as people age, and also which cause the most problems for people and the health service. This will allow researchers and health care workers to better plan how to deliver care to people with various types of multimorbidities. This work involves colleagues from HDR UK Sites in Scotland, London, Cambridge, the Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Read more in our case study here.

HDR UK National Phenomics Resource

We will create an open-source resource of disease definitions for researchers, clinicians, the NHS and data providers, who use structured electronic health records to directly improve people’s healthcare and health. Electronic health records include information like symptoms, diagnoses, laboratory test results, procedures and prescriptions, collected through routine care of patients in the NHS across primary or secondary care. They are valuable for making scientific discoveries, such as developing new personalised treatments, that improve people’s lives. Software and analytical tools are needed to fully utilise electronic health records and the rich information they contain since the data are complex.  We will create a resource that will provide a centralised place where these can be stored, accessed and disseminated, helping to build a community among users of this data, from across research institutions, to avoid duplication of effort and encourage transparency and reproducibility.  This work involves colleagues from HDR UK sites in Scotland, London, Cambridge, Oxford, the Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland and will also link to international teams tackling similar challenges. Read more in our case study here.

HDR UK National Text Analytics Project

This initiative will develop special computerised tools to process the ‘free text’ parts of electronic health records to ensure researchers can gain a complete picture of all patient symptoms, experiences and diagnoses to analyse. This addresses an important problem – most of the information held within electronic health records is in written form (i.e. described in free text rather than a disease-related category selected from a drop-down list), which is difficult to use in research. A network of experts from across the UK will be brought together to develop shared tools and methods to solve this problem and test these tools using examples relevant to patients at risk of stroke, lung cancer, or a serious mental illness.  This work involves colleagues from HDR UK Sites in Scotland, London, Cambridge, Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Read more in our case study here.

Patients and the public will be actively engaged to ensure that the projects are focused on improving people’s health.  Analytical tools developed as part of these projects to study health data, will be made available for use by accredited researchers, to create richer, more useful clinical information which can subsequently be used to improve people’s health and care.

Professor Andrew Morris, Director of HDR UK, said: “This work is at the heart of our One Institute strategy to deliver health data science across disciplines, institutions and regions of the UK. Each project is designed to develop new tools and methods that will be shared openly, or to act as a flagship of team science on how we can better understand diseases and discover new ways to prevent, treat and cure them by working at scale. Importantly we will work in partnership with patients and the public to deliver these projects.”

Dr Rhoswyn Walker, Chief Science Strategy Officer, said: “It is great to see the research community across HDR UK coming together to tackle these big science questions.  These projects will create the methods needed to link and analyse complex and diverse health data at scale, and we’re delighted to showcase these early examples of team science.

For further information please read our project pages or contact the leads for each of the projects, as follows: