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QCIF is contributing to a $13.7 million project to unlock digital health data on debilitating diseases that could reduce hospitalisations, tackle complications and cut health costs.

The University of Queensland-led initiative recently 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.

Associate Professor Clair Sullivan and her team at UQ’s Queensland Digital Health Centre (QDHeC) have 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.

Clair, also a consultant endocrinologist at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, said the project would deliver digital infrastructure to help fight chronic diseases.

The NINA project has received an additional $7.7 million in contributions from QCIF, UQ, Monash and Macquarie universities. 

QCIF will lend its significant capability in data infrastructure and specialised computing, as well as health informatics and data science expertise, including the involvement of QCIF Data Science Director Dr Dominique (Dom) Gorse as part of the project’s chief investigation team. 

“By collaborating with UQ and other esteemed institutions in the NINA project, we are collectively tackling the challenge of unlocking digital health data on debilitating chronic diseases,” said Dom.

“Our involvement in developing the data analytics and data governance infrastructure to underpin a secure and privacy-preserving national data network demonstrates our commitment to ensuring data integrity while enabling groundbreaking research.

“Together, we are shaping a future where innovative digital solutions can transform healthcare, improve patient outcomes, and drive cost-effective measures.”

Clair said: “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.

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

Clair said the five-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.”

Clair 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.” 

QCIF will work closely with NINA’s partners, to ensure the proposed infrastructure aligns well with their internal processes and follows best practice.

QCIF’s partnership with QDHeC 

QCIF’s collaboration with UQ’s Queensland Digital Health Centre (QDHeC) began last November when the Centre was officially launched. 

QDHeC’s goal is to help equip organisations to achieve the Quadruple Aim of Healthcare, which is better health outcomes, improved patient experience, improved clinician experience and lower costs.

One of QDHeC’s key goals is to enable ways to safely share information to speed up health research.

While leveraging big data is rapidly transforming a host of industries, medical research has yet to capitalise on potentially available digital information because of the multitude of siloed systems and complex bureaucracies.

QCIF Data Science Director Dr Dominique (Dom) Gorse said by partnering with leading digital health organisations, such as Health Translation Queensland, the Australian e-Health Research Centre (AEHRC), and eHealth Queensland, the collaboration aims to transform research that utilises routinely collected health data. 

“The Queensland Digital Health Centre has the potential to make a significant impact on the field of health research and innovation,” said Dom. 

“It will empower researchers to conduct world-class studies, leveraging the wealth of routinely collected health data.”

QDHeC was one of seven programs selected for support by UQ’s Health Research Accelerator (HERA) program in 2022. 

The HERA investment of $50 million over seven years aims to address the most pressing health and medical challenges at the same time as creating new economic opportunities.

Being part of the UQ HERA program has enabled QDHeC to build alliances with research partners, Queensland government agencies as well as with industry leaders.

Pictured above: QCIF’s Dr Dom Gorse and QDHeC’s Associate Professor Clair Sullivan. (Photo courtesy of QDHeC.)