Scotland’s strengths in using data science to understand more about the development of disease are helping to drive new discoveries and improve healthcare. Professors Andrew Morris and David Robertson from the Farr Institute @ Scotland explain why Scotland has the edge.
With world-class medical researchers, international computing experts and a track record of cross-sector collaboration, Scotland is recognised as a global leader in health informatics, which harnesses electronic data to improve healthcare.
Among the visionary research projects based in Scotland is the Farr Institute @ Scotland, a collaboration between six Scottish universities – Aberdeen, St. Andrews, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde – and NHS Scotland. The centre is part of a wider UK initiative, the Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research, which aims to drive new medical discoveries and deliver better healthcare.
Scotland has great data
"An important advantage of being located in Scotland is that it is rich in data resources," said Professor Andrew Morris, Chairman and Centre Director of the Farr Institute @ Scotland. "Scotland's health service has detailed electronic patient records stretching back several decades."
Professor Morris explained: “Scotland is a terrific environment for us to understand the complexity of chronic disease and also to tailor better treatments for tomorrow.
I think Scotland has a competitive advantage because of our size and our ability to collaborate and scale across the NHS, academia, and industry. And because Scotland has got great data.
Professor Andrew Morris
“We have detailed information collected over decades of what diseases are present in the population and how they cluster in families, but most importantly, we can track them longitudinally to look at outcomes.
“We can track patients from primary care to practitioner to laboratory to hospital and increasingly look at not only the health consequences, but also the social consequences of chronic disease.”
Collaboration is key
"To be really internationally competitive in this area requires deep collaboration,” said Professor Morris. “Not one industry vertical, whether that’s a university, the NHS or industry, has all the skills required to deliver on this complex and challenging agenda. The benefit of Scotland is that we have a track record of collaboration across these sectors.
"The good thing in Scotland is that it is not like computer science is doing this on its own or medicine is trying to do this on its own - there are a number of cross-cutting initiatives."
A competitive talent pool
According to Professor David Robertson, Dean of Special Projects in Science & Engineering at the University of Edinburgh and a key contributor to the Farr Institute @ Scotland, Scotland’s talent pool also possesses a competitive advantage.
“Really skilled people who can operate at the cutting edge of data science are hard to come by.
"What we find inside the higher education sector is that companies are coming closer and closer into universities, partly with the aim of getting closer to research because they want to understand as soon as possible what the new developments are in data science or analytics, but also because they want to be able to spot the people who are going to be stars in industry early on."
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