Helping children thrive
Every child deserves an equal chance to thrive; but in a resource-limited world, how do we determine the intervention strategies that will deliver universal and lasting benefit? Biostatistician Distinguished Professor Louise Ryan believes data science can play a critical role in the complex search for answers.
“Understanding the biological, social and environmental factors influencing poor growth in children — both negatively and positively — and the effect they can have on health and cognition in later life is essential to developing the most effective interventions,” explains Ryan.
“Determining when, how and with whom to intervene can mean more bang for the intervention buck, and greater long-term impact.”
Ryan and her team in the UTS School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences are leading the Sydney arm of an ambitious global research project that aims to apply quantitative methods to transforming child health.
Spearheaded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Healthy Birth, Growth and Development knowledge integration (HBGDki) initiative brings together data from studies conducted all around the world and draws on disciplines as diverse as statistics, epidemiology, pharmacology, biology and more.
Ryan’s expertise in combining and analysing data from multiple sources and her many years spent living and working as a biostatistician in the United States made her a natural choice for the project.
More than 100 data sets have been added to an ever-expanding pool of information over the past two years, and at least 100 international data scientists are working together on its analysis.
It’s a massive and complex undertaking, with data sets being uploaded to a secure cloud-based system to enable multiple concurrent collaborators and protect data privacy and integrity.
“There has been quite an effort to create a framework where researchers from all around the world feel comfortable in putting their data into the system, and to develop effective online collaboration tools for data analysis.
“The logistics of running this kind of multi-study, multi-investigative collaboration are difficult, but in a way it is a very futuristic view of what science could be about, because the potential to learn from multiple studies integrated together is astonishing.”
The overall project goal is to develop evidence-based decision making tools to guide intervention strategy decisions. Now two years into a three-year, A$1.26 million research grant, Ryan and her team are firmly focused on applying sophisticated mathematical and statistical modelling to analysing the pooled data, underpinning the development of robust tools that could help the world’s two billion children not just survive, but thrive.
Photographer: Lubomirkin via Unsplash