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Researchers have made more than 1,000 applications to access cohorts within the DPUK Data Portal.

Screengrab of the front page of the DPUK Data Portal

The applications span 275 studies, with researchers requesting data from an average of between three and four cohorts per project.

The milestone study is being carried out by scientists in Berlin. They are using the BioFIND imaging cohort to investigate changes in functional connectivity – the relationship between different regions of the brain – in mild cognitive impairment (MCI), thought to be a precursor to dementia. The researchers aim to establish non-invasive biomarkers of MCI using data from the BioFIND study, which carried out MEG brain scans on more than 320 people to help identify useful new indicators of neurodegeneration.

Professor Rik Henson of the University of Cambridge, principal investigator of BioFIND, said: ‘The DPUK Data Portal is a fantastic resource for researchers, which is why we decided to make BioFIND data freely available on the platform. Sensitive biomarkers are crucial to the early detection of dementia, and we hope the MEG data contained within the BioFIND study will help researchers identify the connections and networks in the human brain that are vulnerable to neurodegeneration. It may then be possible to predict who will develop dementia, and to assess how the disease is progressing or responding to treatment.’

Veronika Shamova, a PhD candidate at the Charité university hospital in Berlin, will be carrying out the study in the Data Portal alongside her supervisor Dr Stefan Haufe. Veronika said: ‘We were already using the CamCAN dataset for investigating age-related connectivity changes and were interested in using clinical data. At the time, however, we could not find an open-source dataset with patients with neurodegenerative conditions. The BioFIND dataset seemed like an ideal candidate for this project.

‘The aim of our study is to investigate age-related electrophysiological changes on a large cohort and then use those results for biomarkers of cognitive impairment and dementia. We are hoping that using a large dataset and robust statistical methods – including machine learning techniques – will allow us to identify changes in the brain that can potentially occur before the onset of dementia. Electrophysiology is a non-invasive and relatively inexpensive tool that can be used early in the screening process as well.’

The DPUK Data Portal gives researchers anywhere in the world access to high-quality, multi-modal data from more than 50 population and clinical cohort studies, comprising records for over 3.5 million people. Available data ranges from cognitive test results and lifestyle information to brain imaging and genetics.

Researchers can identify the cohorts that are relevant to their proposed research question or area of study, apply for access to the data, and analyse it in a secure, remote environment complete with analytical software and multi-cohort capability.

More than 100 studies into the causes, determinants and early indicators of dementia are being carried out in the Data Portal, which is free to access. These studies span topics as diverse as childhood adversity, brain image harmonisation, Mediterranean diet and high blood pressure.

The top Data Portal cohorts by requests for access are the Whitehall II civil service study, with 73 requests, and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), with 71.

Priorities for DPUK are to increase the geographical spread of global data access applications, and to continue enhancing the Portal’s capabilities in key areas such as imaging data, tissue discovery, high-performance computing, and data linkage.