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£50m funding for 'medical bioinformatics' projects

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has allocated an initial £32 million of funding to five "medical bioinformatics" research programmes.

The funding, which is expected to reach £50m in future, will go towards data research projects based at University College London (UCL) and universities in Leeds, Oxford, Warwick, as well as the MRC's Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) unit on AIDS in Africa.

"Advances in data research will lay the foundation for solving some of the most fundamental questions in medicine," MRC chief executive professor John Savill said. "This £32 million investment in medical bioinformatics represents an important part of a wider MRC strategy to integrate large scale information about our genetic make-up, our complex biological characteristics and electronic health records to better understand health and disease."

"This funding will help improve linkages and analysis and ensure that researchers’ skills develop in tandem with emerging data technologies. The aim is to strengthen the UK’s capacity to analyse biomedical data in secure environments so that patients and participants can be reassured that their personal data are safe and may be used to benefit the whole UK population," he added.

The Government said 'bioinformatics' was a term that described the use of computer science, statistics, maths and engineering to process biological data, and said that its use can enable "improved understanding of human disease".

"Making the most of large and complex data is a huge priority for government as it has the potential to drive research and development, increase productivity and innovation and ultimately transform lives," Universities and Science Minister David Willets said. "This funding will help build UK medical research capability and improve collaboration across institutions, academia, the NHS and industry."

The MRC's allocation of funding is part of a wider £90m investment the body is making into 'big data' projects in the medical research field. 'Big data' is a term used to describe the vast generation of data and the possibilities presented through digitally analysing the information.

The MRC was one of a number of bodies operating in the life sciences sector that recently warned about the impact proposed reforms to EU data protection rules could have on medical research.

The Government also announced a raft of funding for other big data projects earlier this week, including £14 of investment to help make data being collected at four research centres at Essex, Glasgow, UCL and Leeds Universities available for research purposes.

"The centres will make data from private sector organisations and local government accessible to researchers investigating anything from transport to obesity," it said.

The Government has identified big data as one of eight "great technologies of the future". Others include regenerative medicine and synthetic biology.

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