A HISTORIC combination of six Scottish universities has been selected for a £54 million programme to improve health through better use of data.

The universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, and Strathclyde have joined together for the first time in the field of data science and have been selected to be part of a UK-wide project.

Health Data Research UK is awarding £30m to six sites across the UK – Scotland, Wales/Northern Ireland, London, Cambridge, Oxford and the Midlands – with a further £24m to be invested later to address healthcare challenges using data science.

Each of the six sites has world-class expertise and a track record in using health data to derive new knowledge, scientific discovery and insight. They will work in close partnership with NHS bodies and the public to translate research findings into benefits for patients and populations.

A statement from Health Data Research UK said: “From April this year, the six sites will work collaboratively as foundation partners in Health Data Research UK to make game-changing improvements in people’s health by harnessing data science at scale across the UK.

“Each site’s research organisations will receive long-term funding awards and will become part of a collaborative research community working together to deliver the priorities of Health Data Research UK. This initial funding is awarded following a rigorous application process, which included interviews with an international panel of experts.”

Professor Andrew Morris, director of Health Data Research UK, said the project was a unique opportunity for scientists, researchers and clinicians to use their expertise to transform the health of the population.

He said: “The six HDR UK sites, comprising 22 universities, research and NHS organisations, have tremendous individual strengths and will form a solid foundation for our long-term ambition. By working together and with NHS and industry partners to the highest ethical standards, our vision is to harness data science on a national scale.

“This will unleash the potential for data and technologies to drive breakthroughs in medical research, improving the way we are able to prevent, detect and diagnose diseases like cancer, heart disease and asthma.”

This is the first phase of investment to establish Health Data Research UK. A further £24m will be invested in upcoming activities, including a Future Talent Programme and work to address targeted data research challenges through additional partnership sites.

Health Data Research UK is a joint investment co-ordinated by the Medical Research Council, working in partnership with the British Heart Foundation, the National Institute for Health Research, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (Welsh Government), Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland), the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates, and Wellcome.

Professor Cathie Sudlow, who will lead the project in Scotland, said the announcement aligned with recent investment in the Edinburgh and South-East Scotland City Deal, which aims to make Edinburgh the data science capital of Europe.

Professor Sudlow, who is Head of the Centre for Medical Informatics at the Edinburgh University’s Usher Institute, said: “This capitalises on our world-leading health and informatics research capabilities and Scotland’s exceptional data assets.”