The HDR UK national cohorts consortium is one of Health Data Research UK’s flagship national projects. It brings together the UK’s major population cohorts – collections of health data from >750,000 people and patients across the UK. The health data collected includes measurements of proteins, metabolites, and lipids (e.g. cholesterol) in people’s blood samples, which may be causes and/or indicators of disease risk. The team are combining this information, with the DNA sequence and electronic health records of those people, in a powerful approach that has the potential to provide major medical discoveries, opening opportunities for better disease prevention and management. They are doing the groundwork to make these datasets of biological measurements easily analysable by the scientific community, and work out how to bring data from different studies together, despite having been collected in different ways.

The project was previously taking this approach to generate insights into various diseases including coronary disease, stroke, diabetes, renal disease etc. It is now diverting efforts to answer questions about COVID-19, such as: ‘Can we predict which people will be least and most susceptible to getting COVID-19? What are the determinants (genetic, other omic, prior medical history, other) of acquiring COVID 19 infection in the first place and, once infected, of recovery? Their work includes a focus on COVID-19 patients with pre-existing heart disease, who are particularly vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID-19. To do this they are working towards linking cardiovascular data with COVID-19 testing records. They aim to ensure that we fully understand variations in response to COVID-19 infection at the molecular, environmental, social and economic levels, by effectively coordinating the UK’s longitudinal population studies to gain a much richer understanding of disease progression and outcomes.

People involved

Adam Butterworth (University of Cambridge; part of HDR UK Cambridge) leads the HDR UK National Cohorts Consortium, which falls under the HDR UK’s national priority in Understanding Causes of Disease, led by John Danesh (also of University of Cambridge; part of HDR UK Cambridge). The focus on patients with heart disease is facilitated by a strong link to the HDR UK and BHF Data Science Centre, led by Cathie Sudlow, University of Edinburgh (part of HDR UK Scotland).

Next steps

The team is currently assessing which cohorts are best placed to address these questions and which national linked datasets could and should be sought to enable this.