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Data Delight: a double celebration for HIC

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Blog posts

Dr Laura Ward

26 Mar 2024

This guest blog authored by Dr Laura Ward of the Health Informatics Centre (HIC) is part of a series spotlighting the work of Scotland’s Safe Havens, also known as Trusted Research Environments.

Who is HIC?

Whilst you may have heard about the University of Dundee, perhaps you are less familiar with the Health Informatics Centre (HIC). We are a pioneering group at the forefront of data science, enabling world leading research and innovation. HIC have rightly earned a global reputation as a leader in health informatics, with a rich history spanning several decades.

I am officially embracing the power of blowing our own trumpet, championing our services, and celebrating our 20th birthday this year. HIC’s success can be attributed to its people; my colleagues are experts in their respective fields and luckily for me, are a pleasure to work with.

Data, data, data, what is it?

We live in a world overflowing with data, and extracting meaning from that is crucial. At HIC, our mission is to innovate and enable world-leading research in sensitive data. ‘Sensitive data’ is an umbrella term and covers a range of information, from confidential medical records and personal identifiable information like addresses, to proprietary data and commercial medical technology information.

“We live in a world overflowing with data, and extracting meaning from that is crucial. ”

Dr Laura Ward, Project Manager of the Trusted Research Environment at HIC

Data is key to driving innovation, improving decision-making, and facilitating progress. But it can be sensitive, and safe handling of this data is our primary concern. We provide secure data management, adding value to the available datasets that we make ‘research ready’ and provide access to, for approved individuals. 

How do we manage secure data?

Whilst I definitely do not want to shout about my medical problem widely to the world, I depend on sharing this information with healthcare providers to help me. Now more than ever, we appreciate that sharing the right information in the right way, with the right people, can help all of us. But what exactly this means can sometimes feel unclear. How sensitive data is managed is critical. HIC do not own or sell data, we securely hold and provide access to sensitive data, with a responsibility to the Scottish Government and NHS. We are part of the Scottish Safe Haven Network delivering secure, research managed access to data under robust governance control.

Our services adhere to best practices, including the Five Safes Framework. This framework allows us to manage risk appropriately, and our Trusted Research Environment (TRE) is key to this. Our TRE is the safe setting solution, ensuring that the environment in which the data is accessed and analysed is secure and tightly controlled.

What is a TRE?

The Trusted Research Environment (TRE) is a platform for analysing data which protects privacy and ensures security. Our TRE is the only cloud-based TRE in Scotland, allowing flexibility and scalability. Projects running in our TRE have had significant success, from helping understand specific diseases or healthcare pathways, to developing medical technologies. We have supported many different types of projects from clinical studies to machine learning.

Why do TREs matter to everybody?

Increasing use of TREs have advanced our science and health greatly. HIC have led or collaborated on over 240 research impacts, recorded on the University of Dundee’s Discovery portal and in our list of flagship projects. During Covid-19 our technical work (a project called CO-CONNECT) helped scientists identify the data needed in a single research platform in a standardised format (allowing apples to be compared with apples and not bananas). This project provided researchers with a clear pathway to access critical data more readily and develop therapies and treatment for Covid-19.

An evolution of this work is the Advanced Pain Discovery Platform, a datahub transforming UK pain datasets. This is a key resource for the national pain research communities that will enable researchers to tackle the challenges and future treatments across debilitating pain conditions.

“The data ecosystem is a delicate balance and difficult to navigate if you are new, and that is where we come in.”

Dr Laura Ward, Project Manager of the Trusted Research Environment at HIC

“More please!” I hear you say.

Our newly launched TRE website has all the information you might need about using our services. The webpages are for everyone, whether you are simply interested in this space or if you want to know more about our TRE services. The data ecosystem is a delicate balance and difficult to navigate if you are new, and that is where we come in. HIC can be your guide, we help users understand what data is available, how you navigate information governance pathways and approvals, as well as how we provide access to secure data in the TRE. To find out more visit the new TRE website or contact us at Health Informatics Centre.

The big day!

To celebrate our milestone of 20 years old for all things HIC, we are hosting an event on 26 June 2024, in Bonar Hall, Dundee. We will be reflecting on success stories and outlining our vision. We are an adaptable organisation and have pivoted with the changing landscape and circumstances of the data science field, environment and demands. We look forward in recognising our role in sharing our expertise, enhancing teaching and research, and promoting innovation in health and health-related data. If you are interested in attending this celebration, please sign up.

All views expressed within this blog are those of the author. With thanks to Dr Laura Ward of the Health Informatics Centre for authoring this blog and sharing it with Research Data Scotland for publication.

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