Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), the national institute for health data science, today launches new transformational search functionality, available on the HDR Innovation Gateway – “Cohort Discovery”. Cohort Discovery is a new tool that allows researchers to search by specific population criteria across multiple datasets.

The UK is home to a vast number and a rich resource of health datasets. As part of HDR UK’s mission to unite these, a large number are already available for researchers to discover and request access to, safely and securely, via the HDR Innovation Gateway – the UK’s unified platform for data discovery and access. Users of the Gateway are already able to search via keywords and can drill down further by using filters or “Collections” which group resources around specific research themes and topics.

This new functionality co-developed by HDR UK, University of Nottingham, BC Platforms (BCP), PA Consulting and the CO-CONNECT project allows users to search by specific cohorts or demographic groups. For example, women in England between the ages of 18 and 30, with asthma that do not smoke.

This adds an extra layer and dimension to data discovery provided by the Gateway, enhancing the utility of a number of these datasets even further; and enabling new levels of analysis and insights that will ultimately feed through to the front line of improved patient care.

The Cohort Discovery tool also enables this to be done in a fast, secure, de-identified and ethical way through the continued use of Trusted Research Environments – safe, secure locations to access and analyse the data, without the need to move it around. For the organisations who host the datasets themselves (“data custodians”), Cohort Discovery allows them to provide access approvals much more quickly than before; but crucially to retain control to who has access to the data.

Cohort Discovery is being launched in April 2021 across four core datasets, with inclusion of further datasets and developments through the year.

Register for the HDR Innovation Gateway and see the new Cohort Discovery in action

Professor Susan Hopkins, Senior Medical Advisor at Public Health England and SIREN study lead:

“This is a genuine gamechanger for health research. Being able to search for specific demographic cohorts across multiple datasets opens up a vast landscape to really interesting and detailed analysis. The potential to uncover insights that can improve the health of specific groups in society is really exciting”.

Dr Philip Quinlan, Head of the Digital Research Service at the University of Nottingham

“It is great to see this tool up and running at scale and available for researchers across the UK and globally. For me it is a phenomenal example of the power of collaboration in health research – to take an initial idea that through development, support, the application of great technology and hard work, becomes something tangible, now playing a part in supporting the UK’s response to COVID-19.

“Cohort Discovery is the culmination of a journey that started over five years ago and a concept developed while I was at the UK Tissue Directory and Coordination Centre (UKCRC), and then the University of Nottingham.

“Based on their early support, software expertise from BC Platforms, and the acceleration from working with HDR UK to develop the ATLAS project, Cohort Discovery opens up the UK’s health data resources, removing barriers between datasets and accelerating the journey to carry out impactful research.”

Dr Susheel Varma, Director of Engineering, Health Data Research UK

“This functionality enables us to perform analysis in whole new way and, as we continue to add more datasets into the HDR Innovation Gateway, will be a fantastic and growing asset for the research community.”

Links to further information

HDR Innovation Gateway 

CO-CONNECT website 

CO-CONNECT launch press release 


Initial datasets available for Cohort Discovery

“GASP” – Genetics of Asthma Severity & Phenotypes (BREATHE HDR UK Hub) 

“MATCH” – Health care workers immunity to COVID-19 (University of Dundee) 

“PANTHER” – PANdemic Tracking of Healthcare woRkers (University of Nottingham)  

“ACE2” – Asymptomatic COVID-19 in Education (University of Nottingham) 

Cohort Discovery – a timeline of collaborative technology

Cohort Discovery uses the technology developed for ATLAS, an advanced data search tool for researchers; and builds on “CO-CONNECT”, a project led by the Universities of Nottingham and Dundee in collaboration with Public Health England and the University of Edinburgh. Software and data engineers streamline, aggregate and standardise the data in each data set by mapping them to a common data model (OMOP).

The CO-CONNECT project is itself powered by software developed by BC Platforms, a global leader in data and technology for personalised medicine and drug development.

2014 – 2017  The UKCRC Tissue Directory and Coordination Centre (TDCC) develops the initial tools and know-how that identified the need for a cohort discovery tool. 
2017  University of Nottingham sets up “Digital Research Initiatives”pilots the BC Platforms Software with the TDCC case study in mindtrialed with the Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre datasets. 
2018  HDR UK Midlands bid to bring TDCC insight to health data, resulting in capital award to accelerate BCP development, with support from the EPSRC Impact Accelerator at the University of Nottingham.  
2018  The technology first used by TDCC and HDR UK in 2018 as a pilot across four cohorts under the name of ATLAS, involving Prof. Nic Timpson.  
2019-2020  Dr Philip Quinlan seconded part-time to BC Platforms, gaining greater insight into the technology. 
February 2020  ATLAS launches as a beta version for researchers.  
June 2020  CO-CONNECT funding submission. 
August 2020  Additional “Sprint” funding from HDR UK to enable integration of ATLAS software into HDR Innovation Gateway. 
October 2020  CO-CONNECT funding announced (UKRI-NIHR COVID-19 Rapid Response Rolling Call). 
April 2021  Cohort Discovery launched as a scalable research tool on HDR Innovation Gateway.