First Co-funded PhD Student with Industry Joins the Centre for Predictive Modelling in Healthcare

The EPSRC Centre for Predictive Modelling in Healthcare has welcomed its first co-funded PhD student with industry, Dr Robert Challen.

Robert’s studentship fees have been funded 50% by the University’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, and 50% by Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust and he splits his time between the two organisations. At the University of Exeter he is supervised by Professor Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova and Dr Martin Pitt.

Robert began his PhD entitled ‘Use of natural language processing and machine learning to derive clinical benefit from electronic patient data’ on 1 April 2017. He will be exploring how to find useful data from the unstructured text of medical records, and exploit this to support the clinical care of a patient. Buried within every patient’s medical notes are pieces of information that could be relevant to how they are treated, or could help diagnose them earlier, but finding them and filtering out the ‘noise’ is not generally possible during the day to day pressures of clinical care.

Natural language techniques can help find these pieces of information, and machine learning techniques can help determine what is relevant. Leveraging the computer’s ability to rapidly find and filter information will open up a range of potential clinical applications. This project seeks to understand how best to apply these technologies in the NHS, considering what clinical applications might be of benefit and what issues may be encountered.

Robert is a medical doctor with a background in paediatrics and neonatology. As a practicing clinician he was frustrated by the lack of re-use of patient records beyond the immediate delivery of clinical care. Robert spent the last 10 years working in the health information technology industries in the areas of data standards and clinical decision support. This PhD project represents an attempt to apply some of the knowledge gained there into the NHS environment.

Robert said: “I was searching for a sensible place to base my research when I was invited to the launch event of the EPSRC Centre for Predictive Modelling in Healthcare at the University of Exeter. As someone whose career has spanned a few academic disciplines already I was attracted to the multidisciplinary approach of the Centre, and its role in the wider Living Systems Institute. Meanwhile, Taunton NHS Trust is a global digital exemplar, with a high profile in NHS Digital. It is in the vanguard for open source health IT projects and other health IT industry collaborations. Being the link between these two organisations is an exciting opportunity to foster further collaboration.”

Match funding is available through the Centre for other PhD positions that are funded 50% by industrial partners. A wide range of project areas can be explored within the Centre’s remit, drawing on the expertise of the team. If you are interested in the opportunity to part-fund a PhD student, please get in touch.

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