We are pioneering the science of data about people across a range of data-intensive initiatives. By uncovering insights hidden deep within a range of population data resources. Our work leads to advances in health and other public service delivery, influencing policy and practice to improve care of patients and population wellbeing.
We do this through our in-house technology - Secure e-Research Platform (SeRP) - a safe and secure environment that is accredited to the highest international standards for an Information Security Management System (ISO 27001 Certified: IS632731), accredited by UK Statistics Authority, and NHS Digital Data Security and Protection Toolkit (Organisation code: 8WG95). As a result, we are entrusted by organisations like the NHS and many others to securely store, manage and analyse extremely rich sources of health and population data through SeRP, enabling researchers to answer important questions for the benefit of society.
We use High Performance Computing to enable research using complex data types such as imaging and genetic data. This capability facilitates projects involving Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing (NLP). Our state-of-the-art data linkage and data management mechanisms also highlight data irregularities and improves the quality and consistency of health and other population data for research.
An initial £8 million of funding from the Welsh Government’s Health and Care Research Wales, we have attracted various external awards from a wide range of prestigious research funders, totalling over £85 million in recent years. Ranging from UK and Welsh Government Research bodies such as UKRI, the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, to charities and the Welsh Health Boards, some of the charities we are working with include the MS Society, the British Heart Foundation and the Nuffield Foundation.
Areas of Research Focus
Our ten research centres of excellence have a direct impact on public policy and therefore on population health - helping to shape decisions that affect the wellbeing of millions. We are focused on delivering a world-class technology infrastructure to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing today’s society - creating a global research ecosystem with the potential to produce educational, environmental, economic, and societal impact.
We are also home to the International Journal of Population Data Science - the only electronic, open access, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to all aspects of population data science research, development and evaluation.
Developing safe, privacy-sensitive and ethical infrastructures to support research
We are committed to privacy by design across our data-intensive initiatives. This involves building robust privacy controls into all aspects of our work including meeting the requirements of information governance.
Proper information governance is not merely complying with legislation and regulations but being innovative in operating models and engaging with the public and other stakeholders to demonstrate trustworthy data management and access.
Privacy by design involves a range of physical, technical and procedural measures applied directly to the data and to the surrounding data environment to ensure data safety and maintain data utility.
Bringing together, linking and analysing data from multiple sources
Data linkage is the way we can harness and use the vast amounts of data stored in the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank. It enables us to combine anonymised data from many separate datasets to create new datasets for research analysis.
Using existing data is far more cost-effective than having to collect the equivalent data through other methods such as surveys and is far less intrusive. This makes many research projects more feasible, and more research means better health and wellbeing, improvements in services and care, and better-informed policy.
The quality assurance process of linking data can identify and eliminate anomalies such as duplicate records. This improves the quality of the data and makes the research more accurate.
Linking existing data creates endless opportunities to research areas of interest that may not have been previously possible by allowing more sophisticated research questions to be tackled.
Discovering population-level insights
Being able to access and link extensive, multiple sources of population data together that relate to an individual, a location or an event, brings new dimension to research, allowing researchers to use existing data to identify patterns across entire populations to give a much broader picture.
The increased depth of understanding afforded by population-scale data means researchers can identify previously unnoticed relationships, giving greater depth of clarity and understanding than would be possible from analysing a single source of data.
Using data for positive impact on citizens and society
There is now a consensus amongst those working across health and public policy that by harvesting and analysing population data we can achieve great benefits for society; public data for public good.
Within Population Data Science, we see public engagement as the cornerstone of our work – we involve members of the general public from the outset; from preparing research applications, shaping ongoing research direction, in disseminating research and activity outcomes and impact right through to wider work such as raising the awareness of using data for research purposes.
Population Data Science has a long-standing Consumer Panel which was established in 2011. We currently have 16 members with an on-going recruitment. Panel members are involved in all elements of the research process, from developing ideas, advising on bids through approval processes (via the independent Information Governance Review Panel), to disseminating research findings.
We are home to a range of world-leading research projects. These projects use the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank to access, analyse and act upon anonymised data at population level, which produce findings that inform policymakers at all levels.
Our research programme in Population Data Science has led to:
The ‘One Wales’ response to COVID-19
One Wales brings together cross-institutional teams of experts from across Wales (colleagues from within the Population Data Science with Welsh Government, Public Health Wales and NHS Wales Informatics Service) resulting in an agile and responsive approach to tackling data analysis and intelligence generation in order to provide timely evidence to inform policy and practice to tackle the epidemic and its impact in the UK. Find out more on how our research is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Nature’ study offers new hope in allergy treatment
Our international collaborative study, published in Nature, examined pathways that are important in allergic diseases such as asthma. Drugs that block immunoglobulin E (IgE) are used to treat asthma and other allergic diseases, but traditional genetic association studies have failed to identify the pathways that regulate IgE in the allergic response. Our study identifies several novel therapeutic targets and biomarkers for allergic diseases. The three top sites identified accounted for a tenfold higher variance in IgE compared with traditional genome-wide studies. Our ongoing collaborations are now focusing on the role of bacteria and their products in severe asthma.
Asthma sufferers in deprived areas have increased risk of death
This study looked at over 100,000 people with treated asthma across Wales over five years by probing routinely collected primary and secondary care data from within SAIL Databank. By linking data from 2013 to 2017, we investigated the link between GP care data, emergency hospital admissions, prescriptions and asthma deaths together with geographical and socioeconomic measures for ranked areas of deprivation. The study published by PLOS Medicine shows that people with asthma in the most deprived areas in Wales were 50% more likely to be admitted to hospital and to die from asthma compared with those in the least deprived areas. They were also found to have a poor balance of essential asthma medications that help prevent asthma attacks.
Groundbreaking research links schizophrenia genetic liability and poor health
This research broke new ground by examining the association between genetic predisposition to schizophrenia and poorer physical health by linking genetic data to routine data in the Secure Anonymise Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank. The research team found that individuals with schizophrenia had increased rates of neurodevelopmental disorders (epilepsy, intellectual disability and congenital disorders), smoking, type 2 diabetes mellitus and ischaemic heart disease compared with the general population. However, the increased risks of those illness may not be due to schizophrenia genetic liability.
Separated parents using family courts more likely to live in deprived areas
Our report on Uncovering private family law: Who’s coming to court in England published by Nuffield Foundation shows that separated parents in England who depend on the family courts to resolve private disputes over child arrangements are likely to live in the country’s most deprived areas. The study also reveals a clear north-south divide in the number of private law applications being made, with rates highest in the north. The study used population-level data, routinely collected by Cafcass UK and available in the Secure Anonymise Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank.
Associated Collaborative and Industry Partners
Our work involves all aspects of health and social care research that delivers robust data for large-scale studies, cohort studies, case control studies, purposive sampling, policy evaluation, methodological research and clinical trials. This work is conducted under the Patient and Population Health and Informatics (PPHI) at Swansea University Medical School.
This has brought over £85m worth of investment from high-esteem funders including:
- UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
- National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)
- Medical Research Council (MRC)
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESRC)
- Public Health Agency Research and Development
- UK Department of Health and Social Care
- Health and Care Research Wales
- Welsh Health Boards
- Welsh Government
- Chief Scientist Office
- British Heart Foundation
- Nuffield Foundation
- MQ Mental Health Research
- MS Society
- Health Foundation
These investments have helped form a world-class collective of public health professionals, informatics specialists, data scientists and analysts, governance experts, public and patient involvement experts amongst other disciplines.
Positioned at the global forefront in the field of population data research, we collaborate with other world-leading institutions and researchers, and our teaching programmes ensure that we make a valuable contribution to the next generation of health data specialists - helping to secure a bright future for health and population data research.
Associated Research Projects
Designed to achieve collective impact, Population Data Science is home to ten Centres of Excellence. These centres bring together multi-disciplinary partners and promote collaboration between researchers and data users throughout in the UK and internationally. Public involvement and engagement are at the heart of our work, ensuring that we involve the public in our decisions. This gives us valuable perspectives so that all our research remains in the public interest.
Our Centres of Excellence include:
- Administrative Data Research Wales
- Adolescent Mental Health Data Platform
- BREATHE – The Health Data Research Hub for Respiratory Health
- Dementias Platform UK Data Portal
- Family Justice Data Partnership
- Health Data Research UK
- National Centre for Population Health & Well-being Research
- Secure Anonymised Information Linkage Databank (SAIL Databank)
- UK Multiple Sclerosis Register
- Wales Asthma Observatory
Associated Sub-Theme Publications
- Davies, G., Jordan, S., Thayer, D., Tucker, D. and Humphreys, I., 2020. Medicines prescribed for asthma, discontinuation and perinatal outcomes, including breastfeeding: A population cohort analysis. Plos one, 15(12), p.e0242489.
- Kendall, K.M., John, A., Lee, S.C., Rees, E., Pardiñas, A.F., Banos, M.D.P., Owen, M.J., O'Donovan, M.C., Kirov, G., Lloyd, K. and Jones, I., 2020. Impact of schizophrenia genetic liability on the association between schizophrenia and physical illness: da
- Ford, D.V., Jones, K.H., Verplancke, J.P., Lyons, R.A., John, G., Brown, G., Brooks, C.J., Thompson, S., Bodger, O., Couch, T. and Leake, K., 2009. The SAIL Databank: building a national architecture for e-health research and evaluation. BMC health servic
- Middleton, R.M., Pearson, O.R., Ingram, G., Craig, E.M., Rodgers, W.J., Downing-Wood, H., Hill, J., Tuite-Dalton, K., Roberts, C., Watson, L. and Ford, D.V., 2020. A Rapid Electronic Cognitive Assessment Measure for Multiple Sclerosis: Validation of Cogni
- Schnier, C., Wilkinson, T., Akbari, A., Orton, C., Sleegers, K., Gallacher, J., Lyons, R.A. and Sudlow, C.L., 2020. Cohort profile: The Secure Anonymised Information Linkage databank Dementia e-cohort (SAIL-DeC). International Journal of Population Data S