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100 Ways of Using Data to Make Lives Better

Cherry Martin

14th December 2017

100 Ways of Using Data to Make Lives Better is a series of 100 national case studies curated by The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research. It showcases not only the work of The Farr Institute but of the wider UK research community. By publishing these case studies, the Institute aims to promote the safe and trusted use of data in research and raise awareness of its benefits to patients and the public.

We had a chat with Cherry Martin, Communications Manager at The Farr Institute to find out a bit more about the Institute, the project and the #DataSavesLives hashtag that the Cancer Innovation Challenge has also adopted.

What is The Farr Institute? 

The Farr Institute is a UK-wide research collaboration involving more than 20 universities and health partners in England, Scotland and Wales. It’s publically funded by a consortium of 10 organisations, led by the Medical Research Council, and is committed to delivering high-quality, cutting-edge research using ‘big data’ to advance the health and care of patients and the public. The Farr Institute doesn’t own or control data but analyses data to better understand the health of patients and populations. 


Could you talk about the idea behind the #DataSavesLives hashtag? 

The aim behind the #DataSavesLives campaign is to have a ‘what it says on the tin’ way of talking about health data science research and the positive impacts it has on patients and society. 

Building public trust around using patient data in research is an ongoing challenge. By curating positive news stories, publications and case studies with the hashtag, we’re able to highlight the work being done with data that really is helping to save lives. 

Social media is a powerful tool. The #DataSavesLives hashtag has created a direct channel of communication between the research community and the public and has fostered a lot of support for using data in research. Initially launched in 2014 by HeRC, our North of England Centre, the hashtag is now used by organisations across the world, united in supporting the re-use of data for research. 

It’s a way for the research community to say “this is why we do what we do”, and hopefully helps non-expert audiences and the public to understand why using data in research is important for all of us. 



Tell us about the “100 Ways of Using Data to Make Lives Better” case studies

We were looking for additional ways to promote the safe and trusted use of data in research and to raise awareness of its public benefit. We wanted to counter-balance the negative stories in the media that were damaging public trust by giving relatable examples of the ways in which data is improving our everyday lives.  

We’ve created more than a hundred concise, plain English case studies which clearly explain the whole story of each research project - from why the research has taken place, to the impact the results have on treatments, policy or public health. By making these examples of research publically-accessible in layman’s terms, and by not only telling part of the story, we hope to put health data research into context for people, allowing them to better understand how data can be used to improve medications, treatments and care. 


The Cancer Innovation Challenge is trying to improve cancer care and outcomes through data innovation, do any of the “100 ways” give an example of how data has helped the lives of cancer patients? 

Yes, certainly. By analysing data held by NHS Scotland, a team of researchers obtained ethical approval to study the records of women within Tayside who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1998 and 2008. The health records provided information on the type of breast cancer, the treatment patients received and whether or not patients had passed away. The team was able to compare women with breast cancer who were taking aspirin for other medical conditions with patients who weren’t taking aspirin. The results suggested that aspirin could improve the survival of women diagnosed with breast cancer. Other studies have also supported this link, and Cancer Research UK are now supporting a clinical trial to explore whether aspirin can in fact stop cancers from coming back. 

See 14. Research Using Medical Records Suggests That Aspirin May Help Women with Breast Cancer

The 100 Ways series also showcases some examples of how data has been used to learn more about the risks of developing cancer. A team led by The University of Manchester analysed data to investigate the link between BMI measurements and obesity-related cancers. Rather than looking at single, high BMI measurements – snapshots in time – they studied high BMI measurements throughout the course of a lifetime. It’s already known that high BMI increases the likelihood of developing some cancers, but the detailed data analysis in this study revealed that those people who rapidly gain weight are at an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer.

See 84. Lifetime BMI Trajectories & Obesity-Related Cancer Risk 
 

You can browse the 100 Ways of Using Data to Make Lives Better case study series on The Farr Institute website and share on social media with #DataSavesLives.

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