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New fellowships programme will explore cardiovascular disease, cancer and other complex conditions

A new “rising stars’ fellowships programme, co-led by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) and Queen’s University Belfast, will enable six talented early career researchers to accelerate their careers for a future in health data science.

Cancer diagnosis pathways image

Exploring a range of conditions from cardiovascular disease and cancer to severe mental illness and diabetes, the £1.8 million funded projects will help deliver the ambitious aims of the Big Data for Complex Disease (BDCD) and Molecules to Health Records programmes.

Professor Mark Lawler, Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s University Belfast, Scientific Director of DATA-CAN and Co-Director of the BDCD programme, said: “These six fellows and their mentorship teams exemplify the power of team science in unlocking the potential of health data science across the UK. Given Queen’s commitment to health data science and its deployment through Momentum One Zero, Belfast Region City Deal Innovation Centre, we are delighted to co-lead this major programme.

“Selecting some of the best young minds in health data science marks the beginning of exciting collaborative endeavours poised to make impactful strides in understanding complex diseases and addressing healthcare disparities. We look forward to working with these “rising stars” and advancing health data science for better health and wellbeing in the coming years across the four nations of the UK. These leaders of the future will help establish the UK primacy in health data science, locally and globally.”

The fellows and their mentors are from HDR UK member universities across the UK: Queen’s University Belfast, Edinburgh, University College London, Cambridge, Leeds, Oxford, Nottingham, Swansea, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Kings College London, Dundee, and Leicester.

One of the rising stars of the programme is Katie Spencer, who will work between Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Leeds.

By working with NHS leaders and patients, her project will make sure that the results achieved can help reduce cancer inequalities, ensuring that all patients get the right care and have the best chance of surviving cancer, no matter what their background or where they live.

She said: “I am really excited to be working with colleagues in Belfast and Leeds on this prestigious fellowship. Half of people in the UK (including Northern Ireland) will develop cancer in their lifetime, but outcomes are not as good as those in economically similar countries. In the UK, outcomes are worse for people from poorer areas, but we don’t fully understand why.

“This project seeks to understand how money is spent on cancer care in the NHS. It will use real world data from patients treated for four common cancers (lung, bowel, oesophageal and lymphoma) to find out how much NHS cancer treatment costs and use this information to understand how cancer inequalities arise and how they can be addressed.”

Professor Lawler added: “Katie’s work is very exciting. Here in Northern Ireland, there are significant challenges to our health system, particularly in relation to cancer care. We are confident that this project will generate the vital intelligence that we need to reimagine cancer care and its delivery and ensure equality of access for all citizens in Northern Ireland, no matter where they live or what they earn.”

Professor Cathie Sudlow, Chief Scientist and Deputy Director of HDR UK, Director of the British Heart Foundation Data Science Centre and Co-Director of the BDCD programme, said: “The rapid and innovative recruitment process we conceived between HDR UK and Queen’s has been highly successful. We received a large number of strong applications, reflecting the great talent that exists in the health data science domain.

“These fellowships will address important questions to improve prediction of diseases such as cancers and cardiovascular diseases, the interrelationship between them, and the impact of inequalities. The projects span institutions across the four nations of the UK, and cover topics from mental illness to health economics and trustworthy artificial intelligence.”

Featured Expert
Photo: Professor Mark Lawler

Professor Mark Lawler

ASSOCIATE PRO-VICE-CHANCELLOR AND PROFESSOR OF DIGITAL HEALTH, CHAIR IN TRANSLATIONAL CANCER GENOMICS
The Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research
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Media inquiries to Sian Devlin at s.devlin@qub.ac.uk 

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