UCI to lead transfer of COVID-19 patient data for federal research

Centralized health information from all UC hospitals will enable further study of the disease

March 24, 2021
Dr. Dan M. Cooper, associate vice chancellor for clinical and translational science at UC Irvine

“The huge value of this large database is identifying risk factors,” said Dr. Dan M. Cooper, who is managing the integration of UC COVID-19 health data into a centralized national platform to help fight the coronavirus. Photo by Steve Zylius

Vaccines are here, but as COVID-19 cases continue and variants spread, researchers need easy access to a wide variety of data to better understand the disease. University of California hospitals, led by UC Irvine, have received a $500,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to make this possible.

Dr. Dan M. Cooper, associate vice chancellor for clinical and translational science at UCI, will manage a transfer of information on UC COVID-19 cases into the National COVID Cohort Collaborative's centralized data resource at the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

“We were very involved in the pandemic from Day One,” said Cooper, chair of UC Biomedical Research Acceleration, Integration & Development (UC BRAID), a coalition of all five UC health centers — UCI, UC San Francisco, UC San Diego, UC Davis and UCLA — with NIH funding for translational research.

In June, the National COVID Cohort Collaborative, known as N3C, launched an analytics platform for electronic health records so that researchers could more easily investigate coronaviruses. It has collected records from more than one million patients. Most personal information is not included, however, patient ZIP Codes and dates of service are. 

Secure system

Researchers pursuing COVID-19-related studies can apply for quick access to detailed case data, including demographics, symptoms, medications, lab test results and outcomes. Data will continue to feed into the secure system for five years to help address both immediate and long-term questions about the disease.

In a statement about the data resource, the NIH said: “Having access to a centralized enclave of this magnitude will help researchers and healthcare providers answer clinically important questions they previously could not, such as ‘Can we predict who might need dialysis because of kidney failure?’ or ‘Who might need to be on a ventilator because of lung failure?’ and ‘Are there different patient responses to coronavirus infection that require distinct therapies?’”

UC health centers have also collected a large amount of data from COVID-19 patients, including age, sex, weight, medications and conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes — with identifying details removed. The $500,000 grant will allow Cooper’s team to incorporate the data into the N3C Data Enclave, making case records available on a national scale.

“Rather than going to each of our campuses, we fashioned an agreement where we would share our database,” Cooper said.

Collaboration on national scale

“The huge value of this large database is identifying the risk factors,” he added. “There may be medications that are being given out that actually improve the condition.”

Collaborators within the UC coalition coalition include Dr. Gary Firestein of UC San Diego, Dr. Ted Wun of UC Davis, Dr. Harold Collard of UC San Francisco, Dr. Steve Dubinett of UCLA and UC BRAID Executive Director Laurie Herraiz.

This partnership builds on an effort within UCI to organize health-related data and make it available to researchers across campus. The health database created by the UCI Collaboratory of Data in Health and Wellness is designed to allow for easy collaboration among scholars, medical providers and patients to advance healthcare.

“UCI researchers combined the data from the N3C Data Enclave with data in the collaboratory,” said Tom Andriola, UCI vice chancellor for information, technology and data. “This is providing UCI investigators and their collaborators an environment designed for rapid, data-driven discovery.”

Contact information:
Tom Vasich

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities and is ranked among the nation’s top 10 public universities by U.S. News & World Report. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $7 billion annually to the local economy and $8 billion statewide. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.