Defining Disease

We are creating computer-friendly information to better define cardiovascular disease. These are added to an open Phenotype Library – a directory of tools and guides to speed up understanding of disease.

What do we mean by ‘defining disease’ and by ‘phenotypes’?

A phenotype is a characteristic of an individual which can be seen or measured. Examples of phenotypes include height, blood pressure, whether someone currently has or has had a disease or health condition, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, or has experienced an event, such as a heart attack, surgery, or a prescription for a particular medication.

Phenotypes can be used to identify and differentiate one person, or set of people, from another in research studies.

A computable phenotype is a way of finding out if a person has a specific characteristic by analysing information about that person using a computer. To find out if a person has a particular disease or health condition a computer would analyse information contained in a person’s health records.

Why are ‘computable phenotypes’ important for cardiovascular disease research?

Computable phenotypes enable researchers to understand and use the detailed and complex information contained in a person’s health records for research. Analysing this data using a computer also enables researchers to look at information from very large numbers of people consistently and quickly.

Studies of large groups of people provide stronger and more reliable results. They also provide information that is more relevant to the entire population, such as identifying different types of cardiovascular disease.

What are we doing?

We want to improve the way that health information is analysed by a computer. This will help researchers and clinicians to better understand complex health information, which could have benefits for all research, leading to better care for patients. Computers need to be given instructions to be able to analyse health information; these computational instructions are also called algorithms.

We are supporting researchers to use enormous health data  sets by ensuring phenotyping algorithms are available to meet their needs.

Ensuring phenotyping algorithms are FAIR

Currently, most phenotyping algorithms are not readily accessible because of limited sharing and a lack of defined standards. We want to make sure that phenotyping algorithms are findable, accessible, interoperable (usable across systems), and reusable (FAIR) by everyone.

Following community engagement and workshops to identify researchers’ needs, we have now published a report that includes our recommendations to ensure FAIR phenotyping algorithms are available to meet the needs of the cardiometabolic research community. Our recommendations include that phenotyping algorithms should be made available via a single, centrally accessible repository and that they are fully described using the information we outline.

You can find the report HERE and read the related web story HERE.

Making available phenotyping algorithms

We are also working with experts such as clinicians, researchers, and data scientists to make available validated phenotyping algorithms.

Many of these algorithms have been created as part of the research projects within CVD-COVID-UK and include phenotypes such as deep vein thrombosis, sudden cardiac death, stroke and cardiac arrhythmias.

These definitions and algorithms are being shared via the HDR UK Phenotype Library. They can then be re-used by other researchers, which stops duplication of effort and makes it easier to reproduce research. You can view all BHF Data Science Centre phenotype definitions available in the Phenotype Library HERE.

Areas of work

Find out more about our data-led research.