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Initiatives in informatics research

The MRC, in partnership with nine other government departments, research councils and charities*, have committed over £90m in several initiatives that are aimed at supporting informatics research, infrastructure and scientists. Our ultimate aim is to build a sustainable capability in health and biomedical informatics in the UK.

The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research

In 2012 the MRC brought together a consortium of ten funders* to establish e-health informatics research centres across the UK. A total of £19m was awarded to four centres based at University College London, and the universities of Manchester, Swansea and Dundee. To further strengthen the UK’s capability in analysing and linking health data, the MRC invested an additional £20m into these Centres to create the Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research in May 2013.

The aim of the Farr Institute is to carry out cutting-edge research, build research capacity and support infrastructure for enabling safe data sharing. The Farr Institute comprises 24 UK academic institutions and two MRC units.

Visit the Farr Institute website to learn more about this initiative.

The Farr Institute universities

This map shows the Farr Institute universities, which are distributed across the UK and led from:

  • University College London (Farr Institute @ London)
  • University of Manchester (Farr Institute @ HeRC N8)
  • Swansea University (Farr Institute @ CIPHER)
  • University of Dundee (Farr Institute @ Scotland)

Map showing locations of the 24 universities of the Farr Institute based around the four nodes of UCL, Swansea University, University of Manchester and University of Dundee

UK Health Informatics Research Network

To add value to the Farr initiative, the 10 funding partners* have supported a UK Health Informatics Research Network (UKHIRN). Managed by the Farr Institute, the Network brings together expertise and partners from across the UK to tackle shared challenges and issues in health informatics research. Together UKHIRN and the Farr Institute aim to transform the landscape of health informatics and bring about significant health and economic benefits for the UK.

The Network will:

  • Develop methodologies for linkage and analysis of large datasets
  • Develop standards and best practice for interoperability across data sets
  • Coordinate training and career development opportunities
  • Provide a central route for collaborating with industry, the NHS and policymakers
  • Engage with the public to promote the benefits of using health records in research

To get involved in this initiative, visit www.farrinstitute.org.

Medical bioinformatics initiative

The MRC supports a large informatics portfolio that includes clinical, population, imaging, molecular (including genetic), cellular, tissue and other complex phenotypic data. Our vision is to bring this data together to better understand the causes of disease and to improve health care.

In early 2014 we announced £39m to support six strategic awards to combine clinical, health and bioinformatics data. Funds will be used to develop skills in using datasets, provide career opportunities and to support tools, technologies and infrastructure for large-scale data use. The awardees included:

  • Leeds MRC Medical Bioinformatics Centre
  • University of Oxford Big Data Institute
  • MRC/UVRI Medical Informatics Centre at the MRC/UVRI Uganda Research Unit
  • The MRC Consortium for Medical Microbial Bioinformatics led by Warwick
  • The Medical Bioinformatics partnership led by Imperial College London
  • University College London Partners, which includes the Francis Crick Institute

ELIXIR partnership

ELIXIR is a €200m initiative that aims to integrate for the first time the large amounts of molecular and cellular research data produced throughout Europe. It will define how to distribute and manage this data, how to secure Europe-wide investment in informatics and how to coordinate training and standards development. Initially funded by the MRC, BBSRC and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the UK arm is focused on providing training for research and computer scientists in data management and the use of tools for interpreting large datasets.

Skills Development Fellowships

Building skills and capacity has been a long-standing priority for the MRC. MRC Skills Development Fellowships will support training for very early career researchers in, or individuals changing disciplines to, MRC priority areas for capacity-building at this level. The scheme currently focuses on the following areas:

  • Quantitative expertise
  • Expertise at the social science interface

Centres for doctoral training

We have partnered with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to support three multi-disciplinary Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), which align with biomedical informatics. Two centres at the University of Oxford will focus on systems approaches to biomedicine and next generation statistical science, and one centre at the University of Warwick will focus on statistics of complex systems and the manipulation of complex data. The CDTs will strengthen UK skills and capability at the interface between biomedical, health and physical sciences.

* The ten funders are Arthritis Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute of Health Research, the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (Welsh Assembly Government), the Chief Scientist Office (Scottish Government Health Directorates) and the Wellcome Trust.