A new database will investigate the links between environment, climate and human health

Health and environment data to be linked for the first time

A new £800,000 grant from the Medical Research Council will allow scientists to connect diverse databases and probe the links between climate, environment, and human health.

The grant, which also includes funding from the Natural Environment Research Council, has been awarded to a team of researchers led by the University of Exeter Medical School’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health, based in Truro.

Experts from the University of Exeter, the Met Office, Public Health England, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the University of Bristol will be involved in the project which, over three years, will develop an internet-based platform that will link health data with information on the environment and climate.

A large proportion of diseases worldwide are associated with environmental factors, and climate change forecasts are placing increasing emphasis on the ways in which our weather, combined with the environment, can impact upon health and wellbeing.

By bringing together separate information archives from various organisations, the research team is hoping to overcome a common problem in health research - a lack of comparable data.

The creation of an IT system and database that links weather, climate and environmental data with information on health and wellbeing will allow scientists to carry out investigations across different disciplines, identify risk ‘hot spots,’ and provide health care professionals and policymakers with the information needed to improve population health.

Initial areas of examination will include a focus on how extreme temperatures and air quality can cause death; how climate and weather patterns influence the spread of infectious diseases; and how climate driven changes to the coast and ocean might affect the spread of harmful algal blooms.

The database will use so called ‘anonymising’ techniques to ensure that all sensitive data remains unidentified and confidential.

Professor Lora Fleming, Director of the University of Exeter Medical School’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health, and Principal Investigator of the research project, said

“We’ve assembled an exceptionally skilled team from several national institutions to take on the formidable task of merging diverse types of data. Once complete, this new database will be available to medical researchers across the world, allowing the intricate relationships between climate and health to be unpicked.”

Sir Andy Haines, Professor of Public Health and Primary Care at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said

"This ground-breaking collaboration will develop and make available a range of linked environmental and health data to the research community. Although the focus is on data from the UK, the work will have international implications and ensure that the UK plays a global leadership role in improving the understanding of the complex linkages between public health and environmental change. This new knowledge will help to improve the public health responses to the effects of climate change and other environmental threats."

Stepping stones image via Shutterstock.

Date: 10 September 2013

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