$2.2m investment to set up national secure research platform

A growing number of research projects involve highly sensitive data – now Monash University will lead a national project to ensure research data remains both secure and FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) thanks to more than $950k from the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) and over $1.3m from other partners.

A Monash-led consortium of academic institutions has been successful in securing National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) investment from ARDC’s 2020 Platforms program to create the Secure eResearch Platform: Scalable Governance, Control & Management of FAIR Sensitive Research Data.

The project is a national collaboration to deliver a secure, trusted and scalable environment for data sharing, governance, control and management services for researchers.

Data security for research is an emerging and critical area that needs sustained national investment. Data can be sensitive for many reasons: personal, cultural, national security or commercial sensitivities.

In 2018, Monash University established a research collaboration with Swansea University in the UK to adapt and deploy an instance of SeRP on the ARDC’s Nectar Research Cloud. The SeRP platform also incorporates data linkage capabilities developed by the Centre for Data Linkage (CDL) at Curtin University.

SeRP has the potential to be scaled nationally to enable Australian institutions to manage their own data while also supporting effective cross-institutional collaborations. This has been demonstrated in the UK, where SeRP underpins some of the largest long-term national scale cross sector research data partnerships like SAIL Databank and ADR UK.

Professor Belinda Gabbe, who has championed the adoption of SeRP at Monash University, has recently been using Monash SeRP in research into the ongoing health of trauma patients, linking data from the trauma registry, Transport Accident Commission claims, hospital admissions, emergency department presentations and deaths registry data.

“There’s a huge responsibility to handle data securely. SeRP is entirely customisable. That’s fantastic because the analyses being undertaken are so variable. We have national partners working on health economics, complex modelling and machine learning projects,” says Professor Gabbe.

The project will enable both institutional and national cross-jurisdictional research projects that bring together national and global sensitive data assets and collaborations.

SeRP will underpin Dementia Platform Australia, which is led by the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at UNSW Sydney.

Professor Perminder Sachdev, Co-Director of CHeBA, says, “We are delighted to see this partnership with Monash University become a reality. Dementia Platform Australia plans to host data on scores of longitudinal studies of brain ageing and dementia which could transform the epidemiology of ageing and dementia. It is a partnership with Dementia Platform UK, which will provide the software, and COSMIC collaboration, which brings several Australian and international studies to this platform to make them accessible to researchers around the globe.”

QCIF is coordinating the adoption of SeRP in Queensland and will work with researchers from The University of Queensland (UQ) to deploy and customise the platform. These UQ researchers are leading national health projects, including the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, the Australian Centre of Excellence in Melanoma Imaging and Diagnosis, and Aged Care Data Compare.

Beyond UQ’s projects, Dr Dominique Gorse, Director of QCIF Bioinformatics, said SeRP will be extended to accommodate the needs of other Queensland universities.

“SeRP has been a missing component for Queensland’s research infrastructure. We are looking forward to collaborating with Monash and other project partners to build this secure and trusted remote data analysis platform and enabling data governance at scale,” said Dr Gorse.

At Curtin University, a long-term partner of Swansea University, this project will enable on-boarding of key data assets including from health, justice, education, child protection, housing and disability sectors of government to support a range of national, collaborative research projects including the Linking4Life program led by the University of Western Australia.

Associate Professor Anna Ferrante who heads the CDL team says, “We are excited by the prospect of bringing localised data linkage capability to Australian researchers.”

“Having SeRP instances operating across Australia will give our researchers enormous flexibility. We look forward to working with partners to establish communities of practice and providing a consistent approach to using these kinds of platforms.”

Monash leads the project, with key partners including Swansea University (UK), the Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation, the University of NSW, Curtin University, the Sax Institute, LaTrobe University and the University of Melbourne.