The funding comes from a combination of a prestigious Medical Research Council Data Pathfinder Award and backing from the University of Edinburgh. It will be used to support the development and use of big data to address pervasive mental health issues such as depression.
Mental health problems are on the rise with one in four people in the UK experiencing a mental health issue in a given year. According to Samaritans executive director James Jopling, Scotland has a higher rate of suicide, which is commonly linked to depression, than the rest of the UK.
Researchers say that this new approach using big data, an emerging area of research, to understand mental health could potentially pave the way for new and more effective treatment. Big data will be used to draw more meaningful insights from vast amounts of information pooled from several sources including anonymised health records, genetics and psychological studies. This will help to build a more nuanced and complete picture of the disease’s development and progression, which will hopefully make it more treatable.
Scotland Focusing on Health Data Science
This new project will build on Scotland’s expertise in health data science and aligns with and supports Edinburgh’s goal of becoming the data capital of Europe. Already Edinburgh is home to highly innovative Medtech companies that are developing tools to gather and analyse patient data to improve treatment and recovery.
Recently, Cancer Innovation awarded funding to Scottish companies that are planning to combine the NHS’s store of 30+ years of data from legacy systems with machine learning to improve cancer patient outcomes. Health Data Research UK also awarded Scotland considerable funding to support research into harnessing the potential of data science to transform the UK’s healthcare.
Causes and Consequences for Patients
Andrew McIntosh, Professor of Biological Psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh, who leads the project, said: “Our vision is to make meaningful links between ongoing research studies spanning the whole lifespan and anonymised health records to better understand the causes and consequences of mental health conditions. We hope that this will enable more effective treatments and ultimately pave the way for improving resilience to common mental health disorders.”
“This combination of resources means Edinburgh is poised to make significant advances in mental health research based upon rapidly developing resources for data science that are unparalleled in the UK.”