The four Centres will investigate a wide range of conditions that place a huge burden on the UK population, including diabetes and obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer and child and maternal health.
Maximising the unique value of the NHS, the Centres will undertake cutting edge research that links eHealth records with other forms of research and routinely collected data, which will lead to patient and public benefit and ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of global medical research.
By combining clinical, social and research data, researchers aim to identify more effective treatments, improve drug safety, assess risks to public health and study the causes of diseases and disability.
The four Centres will make use of patient data sets available through the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, a £60 million service recently announced by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and the National Institute for Health Research. The public and charitable funding for these Centres builds on this important commitment from the Government and on similar bodies that link patient records in Scotland and Wales.
Public understanding of the importance of using health data for research is crucial to advancing drug discovery and improving patient care. The new Centres will play an active role in engaging with the public to promote better understanding of the benefits of e-health records research. The Centres will also act as a vital point of contact for industry, the NHS and policy makers.
A network will be formed to capitalise on the expertise in the Centres, and to encourage wider collaborations among UK and international researchers to make sure there are effective links between different types of health and social data sets. The Centres will also offer career development and training opportunities to increase the UK's capacity and capability in research using health records.
Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: "Thanks to the NHS and the UK's world-leading research base, we are uniquely positioned to use patient data to study disease and develop better treatments. The e-health centres are the first of their kind and have the potential to revolutionise health research. They will provide a vital insight into conditions affecting millions of people and ultimately bring benefits for patients."
Professor Sir John Savill, chief executive of the MRC, says: "This is a watershed moment for data research and for the Medical Research Council which I believe will deliver the benefits of eHealth research, improving patient care over the coming years. The way in which the partner organisations have come together to invest in eHealth underpins its importance and will help establish the UK as a world leader in this field."
The members of the E-Health Research Initiative who have jointly-funded the four Centres are: Arthritis Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Chief Scientist Office (Scottish Government Health Directorates), the Economic and Social Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (Welsh Government) and the Wellcome Trust.
About the Medical Research Council (MRC)
For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century.