The initiative – known as the Stroke Data Science Catalyst – will enable researchers to securely access, link and analyse existing UK health data, speeding up the search for better stroke prevention, treatments and care.

More than 1.3 million people in the UK have had a stroke, which can have devastating consequences for patients and their families. Scientists hope that findings from the research enabled by this initiative will improve the lives of people living with the effects of stroke and help people avoid stroke in future.

The Stroke Data Science Catalyst – a five-year partnership between the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Data Science Centre, Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), the Stroke Association, and the BHF – will enable approved research teams to generate insights using data from a range of real-world settings, including hospitals, general practices and pharmacies, to improve our understanding of stroke risk factors and open the door to better prevention and treatment.

New funding from the Stroke Association will enhance the BHF’s existing investment in the BHF Data Science Centre.

Professor Cathie Sudlow, Director of the BHF Data Science Centre, Chief Scientist at HDR UK, and stroke neurologist, says: “We have a huge opportunity to grasp here with the UK’s wealth of health data that could hold vital clues to the causes and consequences of stroke. The Catalyst will combine our efforts to tackle stroke by supporting ethical data research that has the potential to influence health care and policy and to change lives.”

Stroke occurs when the blood supply is cut off to areas of the brain. Risk factors for stroke overlap with those for heart conditions such as heart attack and angina, and include high blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity.

As part of the Catalyst, patients and members of the public affected by cardiovascular diseases – including stroke – will be involved at all stages of research, prioritising studies with the most potential impact for patients, future patients, families and carers.

All data used by researchers will be de-identified and accessed through Trusted Research Environments, highly secure computer systems that ensure that data is held and accessed safely and ethically.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Data science is transforming medicine. The BHF have invested in the BHF Data Science Centre, in partnership with Health Data Research UK, to harness the power of routinely collected health data to improve our understanding, prevention and treatment of heart and circulatory diseases.

“As part of this, we are delighted to now be working with the Stroke Association to better understand what increases people’s risk of having a stroke. This will help us improve treatment and care for stroke patients, and prevent more families from experiencing this devastating condition.”

Juliet Bouverie OBE, Chief Executive at the Stroke Association, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with the British Heart Foundation Data Science Centre and Health Data Research UK to develop novel insights into the health of individuals and populations at risk of or living with a stroke. The power of this initiative comes from being able to link large datasets which will create new knowledge and thus enable a step change in improved stroke prevention, treatment and care.”

Professor Martin James, Consultant Stroke Physician and Clinical Director of the Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme, said “This Stroke Data Science Catalyst represents an exciting collaboration between the Stroke Association and the BHF Data Science Centre, aiming to accelerate our understanding of stroke and its causes through unlocking the potential of big data. People with stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA) consistently tell us how important it is to them to find better ways of reducing the risk of another stroke, and this new approach offers a real opportunity to improve preventative treatments more quickly. It opens another exciting new chapter of stroke research.”

The BHF Data Science Centre are seeking an Associate Director to lead the Catalyst – find out more here.