Informatics and Precision Care for an Ageing Population
Precision care is a new way of finding out which individual patients are most likely to benefit from treatments, and which are least likely to have side-effects.
This is now possible because of the enormous amount of detailed information that we have about the genes and proteins in patients’ single cells and tissues (bioinformatics), and the effects these have on their health, using comprehensive electronic healthcare records (health informatics).
What we cover in this theme
This theme focuses on joining up bioinformatics with health informatics to develop new ways of delivering precision care in diseases that affect older individuals. Some of these are relatively common such as arthritis, while others are so-called rare diseases, such as giant cell arteritis (inflammation of the arteries), a disorder that can cause blindness. We will use the information from individual diseases to understand how they interact in people with multiple long-term conditions, and use precision care to improve the treatment of individual patients.
How we carry out research
Artificial intelligence (AI) will be used to identify the interactions between microscopic and sub-microscopic patient characteristics, their co-existing diseases, and their treatments, to select sub-groups of patients who are most likely to benefit from new treatments in clinical trials. In short, we intend to go from cells, to patients, to populations, and then back to individual patients, in order to select the most appropriate patients for future clinical trials.
Several groups in Newcastle are already using sophisticated methods to extract data from single cells about their genes and the regulation of their biological processes. They have worked with bioinformatics experts to understand how normal cells function, and also what goes wrong in diseases. Our studies will extend this to develop bioinformatics to help make earlier diagnoses and better predict outcomes (prognoses) of diseases.
Who we work with
At the other end of the informatics pathway, we are also in a strong position because we have developed an ethically-approved information governance framework, and computer systems to use anonymised healthcare data from The Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust’s digital patient records, and the development of a comprehensive health information exchange for direct patient care, the Great North Care Record, which covers all primary, secondary and tertiary NHS care across the North East and North Cumbria.
We are fortunate to have excellent informaticians that will contribute to the success of this work, but one of our goals is to build capacity in both bioinformatics and health informatics. This will include the appointment of new staff to achieve the necessary critical mass, but it will also include an element of ‘upskilling’ – training clinical researchers in informatics and AI, and increasing the understanding of our colleagues in computing science and engineering about the importance of this work in precision care.