Image credit: HDR UK

Categories: Sanger Life22 October 20213.1 min read

A Health Data Research UK Black Internship Programme experience

Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) is the UK’s national institute for health data science, aiming to unite the UK’s health and care data to enable discoveries that improve people’s lives. The Cambridge site is led from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, working closely with EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute, the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It is led by Sanger Faculty member Professor John Danesh as the research director.

HDR UK Cambridge aims to advance our understanding of the causes and progression of disease, as well as ways to predict disease. Its research is focussed on the integration of molecular data with routine (de-identified) clinical data.

This Black History Month, we asked Ifeanyi Chukwu to reflect on his recent experiences as an intern within HDR UK’s Black Internship Programme at the University of Cambridge, and what it was like working with one of the world’s biggest health data sets.

The Internship

My six-week HDR UK black internship experience at the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit of the University of Cambridge was rather an intense period of exposure, learning, and growth in the field of health data research. I transitioned from a 'novice' in health data research to someone that now has a considerable amount of confidence and strong awareness in the domain.

Luckily, the internship took place within my transitioning period to data science, as I had recently enrolled in an MSc program in Applied Artificial Intelligence and Data Science at the University of Bradford. Before this, my background had been in marine life sciences - fish physiology - although I had a great interest in numerals, data, and emerging technologies. I undertook the HDR UK internship with great enthusiasm and passion.

The gains from the internship experience for me are numerous. Ranging from working in an excellent professional setting to collaborating with other talented young black interns and being mentored by exceptional researchers, to mention a few.

Ifeanyi Chukwu

Working with health data

The health data research project I worked on involved exploring the health benefits of fish consumption using genomic and biomedical/health datasets. Given that I have a fisheries background, this project was what I was very excited about. The project, I would say, built on my previous background that involved "providing fish for populations" to "exploring the health benefits of fish consumption within populations".

We used a novel statistical approach known as Mendelian randomization to investigate the health benefits of fish consumption. This was done by examining the genetic variations that regular fish consumers have, in relation to coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The early results of the study showed no significant effect of fish consumption on cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes outcomes, as fish consumption may have been influenced by confounders such as the consumption of alcohol. But the work has piqued my research interests in epidemiology.

The project was carried out on the UK Biobank dataset. This dataset is the world's largest biomedical/health dataset of its kind, comprising the data points of more than half a million participants. This internship allowed me to explore this vast amount of veracious health data. My understanding and ability to handle big data using the R programming language has immensely increased.

Following this HDR UK internship experience, I have now secured a one-year data science internship role at the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics starting this year. Thanks to the internship at Cambridge over the summer, my career interest and trajectory has been redirected towards epidemiology, and I am now looking for a 2022 October PhD position in this inspiring new area.