BCS Centenary highlight – The BHF Data Science Centre: enabling cardiovascular health data science at scale

By Dr Jonathan Shurlock

The British Heart Foundation is integral to the activities of the BCS and offers multiple avenues of support, including direct funding for research. One of the BHF led sessions at the centenary celebration focussed on the impressive Data Science Centre, giving an overview of its role and ongoing projects.

The session was opened by Professor Angela Wood who gave an overview of the functioning of the Data Science Centre, including its integrated work with NHS Digital allowing regulated and hypothesis specific access to population wide health data. Professor Wood highlighted some of the potential benefits of these large data projects, including exploring rare diseases and trends in healthcare outcomes across the full UK population, with a particular focus on cardiovascular disease.

Next up was Professor Matt Sydes who works at the centre as the lead on “Data-enable clinical trials”. Professor Sydes discussed the importance of effective data management and some of the challenges with managing such large scale data in a responsible manner. One of his particular interests is how routinely collected healthcare data can be used to support clinical trials and he discussed some of the ways this is being addressed at the data science centre at present and made a call for more ideas from researchers to support.

Dr Michelle Williams is a Senior Clinical Lecturer and Honorary Radiology Consultant at the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian, she is also lead for the centres Imaging themed research. Dr Williams explored the role of large imaging repositories combined with advanced computing techniques to carry out research focussed on mulit-modal non-invasive imaging of the heart and major vessels. There is a huge volume of data “locked inside” medical imaging according to Dr Williams, and one of the centre’s priority themes is the unlocking of this data to help diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease.

The session was closed by Professor Tim Chico, consultant cardiologist and lead on the Personal Monitoring Data theme. Professor Chico explained the current inequity in wearable health-tech, with this being the first challenge to overcome before being able to consider collecting data to answer research questions. As with previous work exploring the role of wearable devices the priorities remain identifying which elements of the plethora of data that can be collected will be useful in assessing health risk and even diagnosis. Though this work seems in the early concept stage it has the potential to have high utility, particularly if the problem of equitable access can be addressed.

The work being carried out at the Data Science Centre appears to be variable and broad reaching with some big challenges to tackle including data protection and equitable access. Each of the speakers were keen to hear from researchers with ideas and questions that could be addressed.

More information about the centre can be found here: https://www.hdruk.ac.uk/helping-with-health-data/bhf-data-science-centre/