December 20, 2023

TELEPORT: Unlocking data access barriers to enhance UK-wide data research

The third issue of our Driver Projects blog series focuses on the TELEPORT project, whose exploits introduced the concept of federated data access – a first among UK trusted research environments. This approach, developed in collaboration with the public, unlocks new opportunities for deeper, broader and more secure research with sensitive data.

TELEPORT: Connecting researchers to big data at light speed was one of the five DARE UK Phase 1 Driver Projects funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) following an open call for proposals between October and December 2022. Over a nine-month period, from February to October 2023, the DARE UK Driver Projects investigated the requirements of what will be a UK-wide network of Trusted Research Environments (TREs) in line with the DARE UK vision.

The TELEPORT project, led by researchers at Swansea University in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and Public Health Scotland, was funded to address the challenge researchers experience in accessing data in TREs to conduct national-scale research. Since data is held by different institutions across the UK, researchers struggle to gain a comprehensive understanding of scientific outputs at a national level, particularly through methods where access to data is centrally managed.

To address this challenge, the TELEPORT project introduced the concept of federated data access – something not attempted before between national TREs. By connecting TREs, TELEPORT enables parallel access to data in multiple physically separated environments. This breakthrough means researchers can seamlessly access the data they need from different TREs via one interface. To the researcher, it appears that the data is all within the single environment they are accessing, whereas technically, the data is still held within separate TREs. This opens up avenues for higher data security, broader and more in-depth analyses, and a significant increase in the scale and detail of research outcomes.

Outputs and Achievements

Through strategic collaborations with key players in the UK data research landscape, including custodians of national-level data in the Welsh SAIL Databank and the Scottish National Safe Haven, the TELEPORT team achieved the following:

  • Federated data access transformation: TELEPORT successfully initiated a transformation in traditional data access within TREs by pioneering federated data access. This groundbreaking approach enables parallel access to data housed in multiple physically separated environments, fostering collaboration without compromising data security.
  • Strategic partnerships: The project established strategic partnerships with custodians of national-level data in Wales and Scotland. Additionally, collaboration with technology providers of TRE platforms at Swansea University and the University of Edinburgh (EPCC) showcased a comprehensive and inclusive project delivery strategy.
  • Enhanced research quality and scale: By connecting TREs and making data accessible across regions, TELEPORT paved the way for researchers to access a significantly larger sample size towards national representability. This advance will facilitate in-depth studies on rare diseases and elevate the quality of research in common conditions, contributing to improved health outcomes.
  • Public involvement and engagement: TELEPORT prioritised public involvement and engagement throughout its development. The project actively sought feedback from public panels and representatives, ensuring that the proposed solutions aligned with public interests and values. This commitment reflects a dedication to ethical and transparent data management.

TELEPORT’s Public Involvement and Engagement Efforts

The TELEPORT project executed a comprehensive Public Involvement and Engagement strategy to foster public trust and ensure success in the delivery of its technical solutions:

  • Consultation with existing panels: Leveraging the expertise of public panels associated with TREs, TELEPORT conducted initial briefings to seek feedback on proposed solutions. Engagements with the SAIL Consumer Panel and the Public Benefit and Privacy Panel for Health and Social Care in Scotland provided valuable insights and opinions, while the involvement of a Lay Lead in project meetings provided an important public perspective.
  • Public-focused dissemination and interpretation: TELEPORT engaged in a transparent information-sharing process by disseminating briefing documents to relevant panels. The Lay Lead interpreted technical details, creating advocacy pieces to communicate the project’s benefits to the public panels and the wider public.

TELEPORT’s innovative approach to federated data access marks a significant step towards a more efficient and impactful national data research infrastructure. This transformation contributes to achieving superior data outcomes by amplifying the scale and precision of research for public benefit and the interconnectedness of the UK data ecosystem.

Visit the TELEPORT Driver Project page to explore the final reports and outputs: TELEPORT: Connecting researchers to big data at light speed.


Learn more about the DARE UK Driver Projects