University of Nottingham

Professor Richard Emes and Dr. Philip Quinlan 

Industry collaborator / supervisor:
BC Platforms and

There is an unmet demand in the provision of human biological samples to biotech and pharmaceutical industries that is preventing inward investment in the UK. We want to build the necessary eco-system that can support and enable the delivery of new research in the UK by making samples and datasets discoverable, accessible and affordable. Between the three partners, the University of Nottingham as the UKs lead in biobanking, and BC Platforms have the technical solutions and these are conceptually ready to be integrated. This grouping creates an inter-connected set of tools that would allow a researcher to discover, enquire and procure the necessary samples. The PhD student will be immersed within this collaboration of leading academic and commercial research.

Although there is a conceptual mechanism for these three partners to create a pathway to secure samples, the component parts have not yet been brought together. The studies will explore technical options in bringing these systems together in an interoperable framework. The challenge is in the fast-paced movement of biomedical research as the datasets now required in order to find suitable samples are growing in scale and complexity as more becomes known about disease. Therefore, potentially novel ideas surrounding data fusion are required to ensure the relevance of the system is maintained long-term. Extending the research challenge and focus is the ability for the eco-system to take account of the needs of the various stakeholders. Our early work has suggested that researchers would benefit from being asked about the research they sought to undertake and then an intelligent search system would translate that into the required query as the scale and diversity of the data required is always increasing and expecting a biomedical research to construct queries unaided is not a solution. Of at least equal importance are the people that donate their samples often with varying levels of consent. Some may opt-out entirely from commercial use while others may specify different types of research that can be undertaken. Therefore, mechanisms are needed where-by samples that have been donated can be dynamically included/excluded from search results in order to match the consent in place.

In summary, this project is about working with national and international leaders in the discovery and procurement of samples for research in order to build an intuitive and intelligent search system that takes into account researcher needs and balances this against donor consent. The work will touch on all the current big data challenges in bringing data together from multiple sources, how to make a search that is intuitive and importantly how to ensure the original consent is respected through the entire process.

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