TRE-FX: Delivering a federated network of trusted research environments to enable safe data analytics

A DARE UK Driver Project

Trusted research environments (TREs) are secure digital locations in which data are placed for researchers to analyse. They host administrative data, hospital data or any other data that must be securely held and only accessible for approved projects by approved researchers.

However, it is hard for a researcher to perform analysis across multiple TREs – for example when data is to be analysed across geographical or governance boundaries, such as devolved healthcare data from across different nations of the UK. Yet this ability is urgently needed. Analysis across a federation of TREs would enable timely analysis of data scattered across the UK to answer urgent questions, as we needed in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The technologies and standards we need to be able to do this are available now – they do not need to be invented. TRE-FX is assembling leading technology providers from ELIXIR-UK and Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) with three TRE providers and two leading analysis platforms.

The project will show through a real demonstration how we can use secure research objects to move between TREs while still supporting the Five Safes principles that govern and protect sensitive data – all overseen by public representatives. Research objects are a standardised way of describing and packaging the digital information needed (but not the data itself) to pose a research question and report the answer.

The impact will be a step change for how researchers can safely run analyses across data stored in many locations, and for how data providers from any sector can safely implement this using technology and standards we already have today.

Principal investigator: Professor Carole Goble, University of Manchester

Project partners: University of Manchester, University of Nottingham, University of Dundee, University of Swansea, University of Birmingham, Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), University of Liverpool, Bitfount, Birmingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

Funded amount: £566,457


Find out more about the DARE UK Driver Projects.