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Microsoft Azure UK region to host data of five million healthcare research scheme volunteers

The Microsoft public cloud platform, Azure, has been selected to host the data belonging to a healthcare research project that is being billed as the largest ever undertaken in the UK

The Microsoft Azure UK cloud region will host data belonging to more than five million participants in the UK’s largest ever health research programme.

Known as Our Future Health, the initiative features input from the public sector – including the NHS – as well as private enterprises and charities that are pooling their data and resources to develop new ways to prevent, detect and treat illnesses including dementia, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.

“Our Future Health has chosen Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to enable the information collected from the volunteers to be processed for research purposes, and underpin websites and apps used by medical teams,” said Microsoft in a statement.

The programme’s volunteers will all donate a small sample of blood, so that their DNA data can be analysed, and will be expected to fill out questionnaires about their health and lifestyle to inform the work Our Future Health will do.

The programme data hosted in Azure will be contained in a Trusted Research Environment (TRE) created by US-based DNAnexus, which specialises in the provision of cloud-based analytics and management platforms for DNA sequence data.

“As with any project of this nature, Microsoft and DNAnexus will not have access to any of the data in the programme itself,” the Microsoft statement added. “The information will be de-identified, encrypted, stored and managed securely in the UK, in compliance with all applicable data protection laws and UK government polices for data protection.”

The TRE is set up so that researchers can access and analyse the DNA sequence data using bioinformatics and biomedical research tools in the hope of uncovering ways to detect life-shortening illnesses much earlier and, in turn, inform the development of new screening, prevention and treatment programmes.

Read more about cloud use in healthcare settings

It is also hoped that this data could pave the way for better targeted, more personalised treatment programmes for certain diseases to delay their onset, while also making it possible to predict with higher levels of accuracy patients who might be at heightened risk of developing these illnesses.

Our Future Health CEO Andrew Roddam said Microsoft Azure will be an “integral part” of the programme’s work.

“[It will be] underpinning so many important systems that are essential to the running of the programme, and ultimately helping to create one of the most detailed pictures we’ve ever had of people’s health,” he said.

Jacob West, managing director of healthcare and life sciences at Microsoft UK, said Our Future Health is one of a growing number of healthcare-focused organisations that are entrusting their data to the Azure public cloud.

“Healthcare teams across the world trust the Microsoft Cloud to deliver better experiences, insights and care, while managing and protecting health and personal data,” he said.

“Microsoft is proud to support Our Future Health’s work, which will provide research teams with a unique view into some of the most common and life-changing diseases that people face.”

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