Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Biomedical and health data science

The aim of this investment area is to harness, with public trust, the power of data resources and tools to gain new health and wellbeing insights. This will enable biomedical and health research on a scale not previously possible, leading to transformational advances in medicine and public health.

Partners involved:
Medical Research Council (MRC)

The scope and what we're doing

The Medical Research Council (MRC)’s vision is to harness the power of large-scale biomedical and health-related data to gain new insights into health and wellbeing. This will enable biomedical and health research on a scale not previously possible, leading to transformational advances in medicine and public health.

Areas of activity

Ongoing areas include the following:

Data use and public trust

Securing public trust by ensuring there are robust and proportional regulatory and governance frameworks in place, giving the public confidence that their sensitive data, privacy and interests are protected when being used for research and innovation.

Find out more about data access and public trust in our regulatory support centre.

Advanced data science, including artificial intelligence

Supporting advanced data science and providing the environment to develop and implement new computational technologies and tools in the UK.

Methodology research

Funding the development of new methodologies needed to inform research practice, policy and healthcare to maximise benefits for researchers, patients and the general population, ensuring biomedical and health research and policy are built on the best possible evidence.

See our guidance on better methods and better research.

Secure trusted environments

Providing trusted and trustworthy environments such as the Data and Analytics Research Environments programme (DARE UK), where researchers and innovators can use sensitive data for their work, bringing data together from different sources and providing the services they need to undertake cutting-edge research and innovation.

Data science capacity and skills

Ensuring the UK has the skilled people it needs, working in the best way to support UK biomedical and health-related data science-intensive research and innovation.

Why we're doing it

Unprecedented volumes of data are being generated through patient records, population studies, clinical trials, imaging and large-scale biological studies such as genomics. In addition, the possibilities to gain further insights into lifelong health and wellbeing through joining such data to other sources of information, such as administrative data and wearables, is opening up new opportunities for research and innovation.

To realise these benefits, complementary methods, tools, infrastructure and skilled people, and regulatory and governance frameworks are needed. Trust also needs to be built with the public, patients and practitioners, so that their interests and privacy are protected while realising the benefits of working together.

As well as working across UKRI on developing strategic thinking (such as transforming our world with AI and digital research infrastructure), UKRI and MRC strategy engages with wider strategic and policy developments across the UK. Examples include the UK government’s National Data Strategy and Life Sciences Vision, the NHS Long Term Plan, and Data Saves Lives and NIHR Best Research for Best Health.

Partnership working

MRC works through a variety of partnerships, delivering programmes and infrastructure to support data science, for example:

Opportunities, support and resources available

Strategic funding investments

MRC supports UK data science-intensive biomedical and health-related research and innovation through a number of strategic investments:

MRC Regulatory Support Centre – the centre provides support and guidance for those conducting research with human participants, their tissues or data.

Health Data Research UK – the national institute for biomedical and health-related data science. HDR UK is funded by a consortium of nine funders led by MRC and including Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Health and Care Research Wales, Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health Directorates, Health and Social Care (HSC) Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), Wellcome Trust and British Heart Foundation.

UKRI Challenge Fund Digital Innovation Hub Programme – part of the Data to Early Diagnosis and Precision Medicine Challenge. The programme brings together biomedical and health-related data, analytics tools and services to support UK research and innovation across industry, academia, the NHS, the third sector and beyond.

UKRI Data and Analytics Research Environments

UKRI Data and Analytics Research Environments (DARE UK) is being developed in response to the UKRI digital research infrastructure strategy and supported as part of the UKRI infrastructure fund: Creating world-class research and innovation infrastructure. The DARE UK programme aims to deliver a novel national federated digital infrastructure to establish the next generation of trusted research environments (secure, cloud-enabled environments for advanced analytics).

It will:

  • define how organisations can best use data for public good while protecting sensitive information about individuals
  • define the technologies, combined with changes in wider governance, policy and business frameworks, that could enable the sharing and use of data in a privacy-preserving manner
  • support researchers to safely store, process, curate, link and analyse potentially sensitive data at a national scale, including use of advanced analytical algorithms (for example artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms).

DARE UK’s scope includes all research conducted by UKRI councils that uses, or anticipates use of, large scale personal or sensitive datasets (linked and standalone) related to social, biomedical and environmental science. More information on the current design and dialogue phase which will inform the future specification of DARE UK can be found in the programme launch webinar video.

View the DARE UK webinar launch video on YouTube.

Subscribe to future programme updates.

The design and dialogue consultation will be supported by a number of competitively awarded sprint projects.

Read the funding opportunity: inform design of cross-council digital research environments.

Transforming our world with AI

The UKRI review into AI sets out UKRI’s view of the opportunities for research and innovation in AI in the UK. It describes UKRI’s aspirations for supporting transformational activities, and for working with UKRI’s partners to place the UK in a strong position to realise the vast potential benefits of AI.

Read the report: Transforming our world with AI: UKRI’s role in embracing the opportunity.

Who to contact

Digital research infrastructure

Dr Ekaterini Blaveri, Programme Manager

Dr Ben Yarnall, Programme Manager

Health Data Research UK, UKRI Challenge Fund Digital Innovation Hub Programme

Dr Paul Colville-Nash, Programme Manager

Better methods, better research

Dr Rosalind Roberts, Programme Manager

Data science skills and capacity

Dr Sam Rowley, Programme Manager

Digital health and artificial intelligence

Dr Yan Yip, Programme Manager

Governance, management and panels

The MRC Data Science Strategic Advisory Group (DSAG) is responsible for advising and shaping MRC’s strategy for data science and takes a broad and long-term perspective of MRC’s role, both in UKRI and in the wider UK data science landscape.

DSAG membership, as of March 2021:

Professor Irene Tracey (Chair), University of Oxford

Professor David Ford (Deputy Chair), Swansea University

Professor Brendan Delaney, Imperial College London

Mr James Fleming, The Francis Crick Institute

Professor Simon Hettrick, Software Sustainability Institute

Professor Chris Holmes, University of Oxford

Professor Marcus Kaiser, Newcastle University

Dr Helen Parkinson, EMBL-EBI

Professor Mark Parsons, The University of Edinburgh

Professor John Quackenbush, Harvard University

Professor Magnus Rattray, The University of Manchester

Dr Jeremy Sharp, JISC

Dr Mike Short, UK Department for International Trade

Professor Cathie Sudlow, The University of Edinburgh

Dr Kenji Takeda, Microsoft Research

Last updated: 5 January 2024

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