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Population health sciences resources

Population cohorts

The UK supports an unparalleled number and variety of large scale population cohort studies. These provide a rich source of longitudinal phenotypic, biological and social data that can be used for studying health and wellbeing throughout the life course. The ability to link to health and other routine records, collect data and samples from consenting participants and apply cutting edge imaging and ‘omics’ technologies, places the UK in an ideal position to fully capitalise on these major research assets.

MRC Strategic Review

For more than 50 years, the MRC has funded a diverse range of population cohorts that have provided important insights into the determinants of health, wellbeing and disease. They have also contributed to public health policy and changes in clinical practice. In order to maximise the value of these studies, it is important to gain a comprehensive understanding of how they fit into the context of the wider UK population cohort landscape.

We have carried out a review of the largest UK population cohort studies to document the current investment in these cohorts and to model how the studies will develop over the next 10 years. A total of 34 cohorts were included, 19 of which were either partially or fully funded by the MRC. MRC funding accounts for just under £10m of the total combined annual spend on these cohorts of £27.6m. They span the whole life course from birth to 100 years of age, and together contain 2.2 million participants.

Download the strategic review: Maximising the value of UK population cohorts (PDF, 2.07MB).

MRC Research Data Gateway

MRC Research Data Gateway is a web-based directory of cohorts. It acts as a portal, allowing researchers to search for studies and variables of interest in order to facilitate new research. The directory currently holds study-level data on 34 large population cohorts and variable-level meta data from five studies: The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, the National Survey for Health and Development, the Southampton Women's Study, Whitehall II, and the West of Scotland Twenty-07 Study. More studies will be added to the directory over time. MRC Research Data Gateway also promotes the development and implementation of data standards that enable data harmonisation, linkage, new analyses and other forms of data sharing.

Read more about the MRC Research Data Gateway

The Cohorts and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources (CLOSER)

The Cohorts and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources (CLOSER) is a consortium of nine of the UK’s leading birth cohort and longitudinal studies, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the MRC. It aims to maximise the use, value and impact of these studies both within the UK and abroad. This will be achieved by stimulating interdisciplinary research across the major longitudinal studies, developing shared resources via a uniform search platform, providing training and development for researchers, and sharing expertise in longitudinal methodology.

Read more about The Cohorts and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources (CLOSER)

Data sharing policy

Data sharing policies are vital for enabling the greater use of valuable MRC funded resources. These need to ensure that data and biological samples are collected and preserved using appropriate standards, and that there are transparent and independent governance arrangements in place for access and sharing.

Working in partnership with the major funders, we have strengthened our policy on the access and governance of patient and population studies. We have also developed improved guidance for data management plans which details information on data collection, management, preservation, sharing and collaboration.

Download our Policy and Guidance on Sharing of Research Data from Population and Patient Studies (PDF 513KB) (PDF, 512KB).

The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research

In 2012 the MRC brought together a consortium of ten funders*  to establish four e-health informatics research centres across the UK based at UCL London, Manchester, Swansea and Dundee. The aim of the centres is to undertake high-quality, cutting-edge research linking electronic health records with other forms of health research, and to build research capacity.

To further strengthen the UK’s capability in interpreting complex health datasets, the MRC invested additional funds in 2013 to create a distributed health informatics research institute that builds on the existing scientific programmes in the four centres. The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research involves 24 UK academic institutions and two MRC units with expertise in health informatics research. The Farr Institute manages the UK Health Informatics Research Network. Together they aim to transform the landscape of health informatics in ways that will lead to significant health and economic benefits for the UK.

*Arthritis Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the MRC, the National Institute of Health Research, the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (Welsh Assembly Government), the Chief Scientist Office (Scottish Government Health Directorates) and the Wellcome Trust.