Multi-party trusted research environment federation: Establishing infrastructure for secure analysis across different clinical-genomic datasets

A DARE UK Sprint Exemplar Project

Trusted research environments (TREs) are secure spaces for researchers to access and analyse sensitive data. They help prevent unauthorised access and/or re-identification of individuals from de-identified data.

Many research institutions and data providers have their own TREs, but they cannot currently ’talk’ to other TREs. The ability for TREs to talk is known as federation. Even where researchers are allowed to use data held in two separate TREs, analysing them together would still require their combination within a single TRE. This is challenging and costly with large datasets like whole genome sequences and can delay new discoveries.

This project aimed to create a UK first demonstration of federation of genomic data by bridging the TREs of the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and Genomics England. Both contain rich, secure, governed sources of fully consented clinical-genomic data from patients. After querying the data within the two separate TREs to find individuals with certain characteristics, a joint analysis was run within both environments, and the results combined in a separate secure cloud environment. This means that no original data moved, only results.

Learning from the project will unlock unprecedented possibilities for collaborations with clinical-genomic data across the UK Research and Innovation research councils, potentially leading to new discoveries with long-term public benefit.

Over the course of the project, the team worked with patients and the public across the project partner public involvement and engagement panels to answer their questions about the work underway and co-write a project description. The team articulated the outcomes of this into a Frequently Asked Questions document.

Principal investigator: Professor Serena Nik-Zainal, University of Cambridge

Project partners: NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), University of Cambridge, Lifebit, Cambridge University Health Partners, Eastern AHSN (Academic Health Science Network), and Genomics England

Funded amount: £200,127

Learn more about the project from Principal Investigator, Professor Serena Nik-Zainal, in the video below.