College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Tackling diabetes with big data

A major research initiative using cutting edge data analysis techniques to better understand health complications experienced by people with diabetes has been launched.


Could “big data” from NHS Scottish patient records hold the key to tackling diabetes?

That’s the focus of a ground-breaking research programme, led by Professor Helen Colhoun (pictured) of the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine.

The project is backed by a £1.3million research grant from the AXA Research Fund, which was set up by the global insurer to fund research into different types of risk.  

Around four million people in the UK are living with diabetes. Recent estimates indicate that around £10 billion is spent each year by the NHS on treating the disease. More than three quarters of this bill is spent on treating related complications such as heart disease, kidney problems and blindness.

Data analysis

The research project will use cutting-edge big data analysis techniques to better understand these health complications and investigate potential warning signs. Researchers will securely access anonymised healthcare data from diabetics living in Scotland to identify patterns in symptoms that may predict a person’s risk of future complications.

These insights will then be used to develop computer algorithms that help predict which people are most at risk and likely to benefit from a targeted intervention.

The University of Edinburgh is rated one of the top five universities in the world for computer science. The university also hosts the Farr Institute – a collaboration between six universities and the NHS National Services Scotland, which delivers world-leading health informatics research.

The project was launched at a scientific symposium at the Playfair Library on 23 January, where Professor Colhoun officially took up the AXA Chair in Medical Informatics and Life Course Epidemiology.


Related links

Professor Helen Colhoun

MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine

Edinburgh Medical School