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Health Protection Research Unit in Genomics and Enabling Data

The Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Genomics and Enabling Data is a collaboration funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) between Public Health England (PHE), the University of Warwick, the Centre for Genomic Pathogen Surveillance and the University of Cambridge.

The HPRU in Genomics and Enabling Data is part of a network of 14 HPRUs funded by NIHR between 2020 and 2025. All HPRUs are collaborations between PHE and academic institutions with a specific disease or methodological remit. The NIHR HPRU scheme funds high quality research that enhances the ability of PHE to use innovative techniques to protect the public’s health and minimise the health impact of emergencies.

The specific mission of the HPRU in Genomics and Enabling Data is to provide the methodological backbone required to improve national public health using new rich data sources. In particular, recent and ongoing developments in whole-genome sequencing technologies have a widely acknowledged great potential to help us improve public health, but this potential is currently incompletely realised due to a lack of sound and scalable methodology to interpret the data in the correct epidemiological context.

Working in close collaboration with other HPRUs, we are developing new analytical methods that exploit large scale genomic, metagenomic and epidemiological data available on infectious diseases, in order to learn about the ways pathogens evolve, spread and cause diseases. These new methods are based on robust statistical methodology, thoroughly tested on both simulated and real datasets, and implemented into open source software tools that are easy to deploy and apply. We use probabilistic models and Bayesian inference to keep a clear understanding of any assumptions made and a full quantification of uncertainties inherent to any public health system. We give particular attention to the scalability of the methods to large amounts of data, and the practicality of their application in real-time situations, including the feasibility to respond to public health emergencies.

Our research work covers four complementary themes. We also perform additional activities for Knowledge Mobilisation, Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement, and Research Capacity Development.