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£20 Million for New Health Informatics Research Institute

Published: Wednesday, July 03, 2013
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 03, 2013
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Six Scottish universities will share in £20million of Medical Research Council (MRC) funding to establish a UK health informatics research institute.

The funding means charities, Research Councils, Government and other bodies will have invested at total of £39million in the new Farr Institute, which will have major centres in London, Dundee, Manchester and Swansea and will link research in 19 universities across the UK. The MRC award will be announced by the Minister for Science and Universities, David Willetts, on Wednesday, 3rd July.
Scotland is represented in the Institute by the Universities of Dundee, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, St Andrews and Strathclyde and NHS Scotland.  Their combined expertise will be coordinated from Dundee to support the safe use of patient and research data for medical research across all diseases.
Professor Andrew Morris, Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Dundee and Chief Scientist for Health in Scotland, said, “The Farr Institute brings together health, social and computer scientific expertise from 19 Universities across the UK.  
“Working closely with NHS colleagues and the public, we have a terrific opportunity to create a groundbreaking virtual research Institute that will harness data for patient and public benefit, resulting in tangible improvements in health care.”
Medical, population and computer scientists will combine their expertise to interpret large and complex health datasets in research environments that safeguard patient confidentiality. Researchers will develop methods for safely sharing, combining and analysing diverse datasets across boundaries, enabling new discoveries and validating research findings with a speed and scale not previously possible.
The Farr Institute builds on the four e-health informatics research centres (eHIRCs) recently funded by a consortium of Research Councils, health departments and leading medical research charities. The Institute’s independent research will support innovation in the public sector and industry leading to advances in preventative medicine, improvements in NHS care and better development of commercial drugs and diagnostics.
It will also provide new insights into the understanding of causes of ill health which in turn will guide new biomedical research discovery. In addition to health benefits for patients and UK citizens, the Institute will help to cement the UK’s reputation as a world leader in research using large electronic health data.
Professor Jonathan Seckl, Vice Principal (Research) at the University of Edinburgh, said, “The MRC’s foresight, supported by Scotland’s Chief Scientist’s Office, will meld our world-leading academic doctors and computer scientists to drive ‘medical discovery from data’ in a safeguarded environment. This will bring a major change in the way we understand common diseases, their causes, best treatments and how to organise the NHS better to deliver healthcare.”

The Institute will facilitate a multidisciplinary environment to capitalise on Scotland’s current position and vision for transformational e-health Informatics research. The centre will be closely integrated with NHS infrastructure, and will play a pivotal role in applying emerging massive data technologies to medical information, and acting to promote early adoption of new technology within the NHS.
High-quality space at Dundee’s School of Medicine will be refurbished to create an inter-disciplinary health informatics research environment, while new facilities will also be established at Edinburgh’s BioQuarter. Together these locations will act as the hub of the Scottish Institute. Additional networking and compute capability will be provisioned at the Universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow, working closely with their NHS partners.

Julia Brown, director of life and chemical sciences, Scottish Enterprise, said, "Scottish Enterprise has been working closely with Professors Morris and Seckl to deliver a fantastic location on the growing medical research campus at Edinburgh BioQuarter.”

Scottish Government Health Secretary Alex Neil said, “The Farr Institute is central to Scotland’s ambitious plans to make best use of patient data in research to improve the care we provide. Scottish universities and their NHS partners have played a leading role in developing plans for the Institute. Scotland has long been a leader in the use of health records for research, and this new investment will help keep us at international forefront.”
Secure structures will be put in place to protect patient privacy. The Institute will engage closely with the public to identify current and future concerns for research using personal data, ways of safely addressing these issues and ensuring the benefits of this type of research are visible to patients and the public.

The concentration of funding in developing UK health informatics research base will provide a focus for collaborations with IT and pharmaceutical companies, attracting inward investment into the UK economy. The Farr Institute will be operational by April 2014.

Minister for Science and Universities, David Willetts, said, “Harnessing 'big data' in the NHS will revolutionise healthcare. The Farr Institute will bring together highly skilled medical and computer scientists, to use electronic health records to improve understanding of a range of diseases. It will attract pharmaceutical and IT industry investment. Patient confidentiality will of course be protected.”

MRC Chief executive, Professor Sir John Savill, said “Using the wealth of data in health records, our patient and population cohort studies and other routine datasets is central to the MRC’s mission to improve of human health and contributing to economic growth. Investment in the Farr Institute represents an important part of a wider MRC strategy to integrate clinical, genetic and other biomedical data to better understand health and disease.”

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