TRE-FX: Delivering a Federated Network of TREs to Enable Safe Analytics

TRE-FX: Delivering a Federated Network of TREs to Enable Safe Analytics

Trusted Research Environments (TREs) are secure locations in which data are placed  for researchers to analyse. They host administrative data, hospital data or any other data that must be securely isolated and only accessible for approved queries by approved researchers. However, it is hard for a researcher to perform analysis across multiple TREs, for example when data is to be analysed across geographical or  governance boundaries, such as the devolved nature of healthcare in the United  Kingdom. Yet this ability is urgently needed. Analysis across a federation of TREs  would enable timely analysis of UK wide scattered data to answer urgent questions,  as we needed in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The technologies and standards we need to be able to do this are available now. They  do not need to be invented. DARE-FX is assembling leading technology providers from  ELIXIR-UK and HDR-UK, with three TRE providers and two leading analysis platforms  to show through a real reference implementation how we can use secure Research Objects to move between TREs while still supporting the Five Safes principles that  govern and protect patient data; all overseen by patient representatives.

The impact will be a step change for how researchers can safely combine data from  many sources, and for how data providers from any sector can safely implement this  using technology and standards we already have today.

Scientific and technical abstract


The main concept of a Trusted Research Environment is that data remains within the  secure boundaries of a technical and governance wrapper, to enable analysis in  accordance with the Five Safes principles (Safe People, Project, Data, Settings,  Outputs). Yet researchers need to perform analysis across multiple TREs that may  also span traditional funder silos: across multiple geographical locations; when some  data exists in one TRE and other data in another. When analytics are federated,  queries are pulled into the TREs containing the data, then processed and the results returned subject to disclosure checking, without the data leaving the TREs.

Currently TREs do not have an effective approach to standardise the transfer of  information in and out of their environments or a common approach to controlling how analyses are deployed and run. A framework is needed to ensure that federated analytic queries run on TREs across the UKRI and ADR-UK networks are interoperable, reusable and auditable to the Five Safes. Such a potential framework  has been developed by ELIXIR-UK, the national node for the European Research  Infrastructure for Life Science Data, and pre-piloted by the FED-NET TRE.

By using existing tooling and open standards within a Service-API driven architecture, DARE-FX aims to demonstrate an exemplar framework and reference implementation for federated analytic queries that enables Five Safes analytics over a federated network of UK TREs. The framework and reference implementation will be developed with PPIE as full team members.

Project Team

Project Details

Start Date: 01/02/2023

End Date: 31/10/2023

Funder: DARE-UK (via UKRI)

Funding amount: £675,639.79

Predictive models in perioperative medicine

HDR Midlands Project

PATHWAY – UHB Health Data Research Hub

HDR Midlands Project

West Midlands Secure Data Environment

HDR Midlands Project