Using health data to tackle childhood diseases

The University of Birmingham and Guangzhou Women & Children’s Medical Center have signed an agreement to establish a Joint Research Institute (JRI) that will use health data to help tackle childhood diseases.

The University of Birmingham reports its expertise in data science will support Chinese researchers in exploring a range of maternal and childhood health issues. They will use information provided by women and children taking part in the Born in Guangzhou Cohort Study (BIGCS), a large scale study into social, biological, and environmental influences on pregnancy, child health and development.

University of Birmingham BRIDGE Fellow Dr Justina Zurauskiene will work with researchers in Guangzhou to use BIGCS data to explore how population dynamics affect women and children’s health.

BIGCS participants are part of a generation that has undergone rapid economic transition in China, offering a unique research opportunity for better scientific understanding in this area. Migration, changes in working patterns, and altered environmental exposures can have significant health impacts.

Microbiology experts from the University of Birmingham will use cohort data to help explore issues around antimicrobial resistance, population genetics, and childhood allergies, again supported by the University Birmingham’s expertise in data science.

The agreement was signed by University of Birmingham Provost, Professor Tim Jones, who said “The University of Birmingham already enjoys a long and fruitful partnership with Guangzhou Women & Children’s Medical Center. We believe that establishing a Joint Research Institute will lead to future successes in tackling maternal and childhood health issues in southern China. Our expertise in computational biology is highly regarded and reflected in the University being invited to join The Alan Turing Institute – applying our data science knowledge to support research in Guangzhou will provide an excellent platform to further our understanding of the health challenges facing our Chinese partners.”

Professor KK Cheng, Director of the Institute of Applied Health Research at the University of Birmingham, said ”BIGCS is an excellent example of the successful collaboration between Guangzhou and the University of Birmingham. It is recognised by the international research community as one of the most important research platforms for the study of a range of conditions that affect pregnancy outcomes and the health and development of children.”

Professor Jean-Baptiste Cazier, Director of the Centre for Computational Biology at the University of Birmingham, said “We have the opportunity to work with Guangzhou Women & Children’s Medical Centre and use our data science expertise to help improve healthcare for thousands of people in southern China. The use of data science will help to develop many exciting opportunities – for example analysing the microbial content of our bodies can, potentially, tell us more about health than genomics, and data science can help us unlock that medical potential.”

Professor Huimin Xia, President of Guangzhou Women and Children’s Medical Centre, said it would be of great significance to establish this joint research institute working with the University of Birmingham. He said “Data science could help predict future public health challenges for families, communities, and the health care system, thus we are all looking forward to bring about well-being enhancement for mothers and children in South China.”

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