Swansea University to support Population Research UK: a national hub for longitudinal population studies

The University of Bristol and UCL will lead the Population Research UK (PRUK) co-ordination hub, part of an existing strategic investment from the UKRI Infrastructure Fund (https://www.ukri.org/what-we-do/creating-world-class-research-and-innovation-infrastructure/funded-infrastructure-projects/).

The UK is a world leader in population research, bolstered by its unique collection of longitudinal population studies, which follow groups of people over time. Individually, the studies have made substantial contributions to the advancement of social and health sciences and together, they have the power to uncover the drivers behind major societal challenges and provide a potent tool for basic science application.

The collective power of the UK’s longitudinal studies was never more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies across the country coordinated to rapidly capture the epidemiological events affecting their participants, work which was then combined with a lifetime of data to shed light on how our backgrounds and lifelong health shaped our experience of the pandemic. This was just one example of many demonstrating  how important it is to make the most of population-based research in the UK.

The PRUK mission is therefore to further harness the potential of these scientific resources by supporting researchers, policymakers and study management teams to maximise benefits and overcome shared challenges.

The hub is the culmination of previous PRUK activity, which has been funded through the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) since 2021. The Hub is a £9 million investment that will play an important role in PRUK providing joined-up thinking across the UK’s longitudinal population studies and commissioning activities that will result in better, easier to use data resources for social, economic and biomedical science. It marks a further commitment to longitudinal population research infrastructure, alongside  ESRC’s continuing investments in CLOSER and MRC and ESRC’s joint investment in the UK Longitudinal Linkage Collaboration.

As a key strategic partner in PRUK, Population Data Science at Swansea University, through SeRP team member Chris Orton, will help tackle the technical barriers facing PRUK. Chris will support PRUK in finding solutions to infrastructural and data harmonisation challenges inherent in curating complex multimodal data and linkage to administrative, geo-spatial, and emerging ‘digital footprint’ data. Chris will bring experience of developing Trusted Research Environments (TREs) and infrastructure solutions for longitudinal population study data to the PRUK consortium.

SeRP’s Chris Orton, technical lead at PRUK, said: “The UK has a vast array of existing longitudinal population study (LPS) datasets and a well established base of data platforms for their use in research. Through PRUK, we now have a fantastic opportunity to develop and provide innovative and coordinated technical solutions to the LPS community. Ultimately through enhancing the interoperability of existing platforms and providing novel technologies, we want to commission improvements and capabilities of the user experience in discovering, linking, and analysing this data, and provide a technical ecosystem for the LPS community which will drive impactful science for the studies, their participants, and the wider public who will benefit from the work we undertake.”

The PRUK co-ordination hub will be directed by Professor Nic Timpson, Principal Investigator of the Children of the 90s cohort at the University of Bristol and Professor Alissa Goodman, Director of the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies. Professors Goodman and Timpson bring a wealth of experience in life course research and longitudinal study leadership and management.

PRUK Co-Director, Professor Timpson of the University of Bristol, said: “PRUK will seek to deliver enhanced use of population-based research assets in the UK. Our community model will deliver a combination of connected working, skilled users undertaking open science with complex multi-modal data, and engaged policymaker, public and participant stakeholders. The overall aim is to maximise the sector’s value for the public good.”

PRUK Co-Director, Professor Goodman of UCL, added: “The UK is a world-leader in longitudinal population studies and Population Research UK provides us with an incredible opportunity to come together as a community. PRUK will create a forum for the users and creators of longitudinal population studies, and the infrastructure that serves them. Through engagement in the forum and commissioning of services, we will drive innovations in how we work in order to maximise the value and potential of these fantastic resources.”

The wider leadership team of the PRUK co-ordinating hub team includes experts from across the UK longitudinal population research infrastructure landscape. Professors Timpson and Goodman are joined in leading the new initiative by Andy Boyd of the UK Longitudinal Linkage Collaboration, Paul Bradshaw of the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen), Professor Rosie McEachan of Born in Bradford, Chris Orton of Population Data Science at Swansea University Medical School, and Professor Jennifer Symonds of CLOSER.

PRUK will focus on five key areas critical to successful longitudinal population research and data collection, identified in the PRUK prospectus, building on existing provision and commissioning additional activities to address priority needs:

  • data discovery
  • data access
  • data linkage
  • training and capacity building
  • coordination and advocacy