Health and environment data to be linked for the first time

Posted on 9th September 2013

A new £800,000 grant from the Medical Research Council will allow scientists to connect diverse databases and probe the links between climate, environment, and human health.

The grant, which also includes funding from the Natural Environment Research Council, has been awarded to a team of researchers led by the Centre’s Director, Professor Lora Fleming.

Experts from the University of Exeter, the Met Office, Public Health England, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and University of Bristol will be involved in the project which, over three years, will develop an internet-based platform that will link health data with information on the environment and climate.

A large proportion of diseases worldwide are associated with environmental factors, and climate change forecasts are placing increasing emphasis on the ways in which our weather, combined with the environment, can impact upon health and wellbeing.

By bringing together separate information archives from various organisations, the research team is hoping to overcome a common problem in health research – a lack of comparable data.

The creation of an IT system and database that links weather, climate and environmental data with information on health and wellbeing will allow scientists to carry out investigations across different disciplines, identify risk ‘hot spots,’ and provide health care professionals and policymakers with the information needed to improve population health.

Initial areas of examination will include a focus on how extreme temperatures and air quality can cause death; how climate and weather patterns influence the spread of infectious diseases; and how climate driven changes to the coast and ocean might affect the spread of harmful algal blooms.

The database will use so called ‘anonymising’ techniques to ensure that all sensitive data remains unidentified and confidential.

Centre Director and Principal Investigator on the research project, Professor Fleming, said

“We’ve assembled an exceptionally skilled team from several national institutions to take on the formidable task of merging diverse types of data. Once complete, this new database will be available to medical researchers across the world, allowing the intricate relationships between climate and health to be unpicked.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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