New digital health project to tackle chronic diseases

Wednesday, 28 June, 2023

New digital health project to tackle chronic diseases

A $13.7 million project to unlock digital health data on debilitating diseases could reduce hospitalisations, tackle complications and cut health costs.

The University of Queensland-led initiative has received $6 million from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) National Critical Research Infrastructure scheme to put data to work finding solutions to better manage conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

UQ’s Queensland Digital Health Centre (QDHeC) has secured funding for the National Infrastructure for Federated Learning in Digital Health (NINA) project enabling researchers to use machine learning to access siloed information on debilitating chronic diseases.

Associate Professor Clair Sullivan, Director of QDHeC, said a lack of access to digital health information was holding back medical research, and the project would deliver digital infrastructure to help fight chronic diseases.

“As an endocrinologist I see the impact of diabetes on patients and their families at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital,” Sullivan said.

“To better manage this disease and other chronic illnesses on a global scale we need to harness the power of digital solutions, which are within our reach.

“Australia has excellent digital health records, but data is siloed across health systems, preventing talented researchers from accessing millions of records about treatments and trends in crippling chronic conditions.”

The NINA project has received an additional $7.7 million in contributions from UQ, Monash and Macquarie universities and the Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation (QCIF).

Dr Sullivan said the 5-year initiative was a new approach to addressing a worldwide problem and would develop a system to create a national data network without compromising privacy or security.

“Rather than attempting to merge different data sets to enable machine learning centrally, the project will bring machine learning to the data,” she said.

“NINA will prepare and harmonise the data to global standards which protect individual privacy and enable researchers to use machine learning to progress their research.”

Dr Sullivan said addressing chronic conditions like diabetes was vital because of the dramatic impact it had on people’s quality of life and the huge economic burden.

“This work is laying the foundation for a digital health revolution where researchers can accelerate learning and rapidly translate research findings into clinical practice,” she said.

“QDHeC will work with 23 Australian and global partners to co-design NINA’s conceptual framework and speed up translation and adoption of this collaborative data model at a national scale to ensure success.”

Image caption: Associate Professor Clair Sullivan from UQ’s Queensland Digital Health Centre (QDHeC). Image courtesy of UQ.

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