The University of Birmingham and Guangzhou Women & Children’s Medical Center today signed an agreement to establish a Joint Research Institute (JRI) that will use health data to help tackle childhood diseases.

Birmingham’s expertise in data science will support Chinese researchers in exploring a range of maternal and childhood health issues – using information provided by women and children taking part in the Born in Guangzhou Cohort Study (BIGCS), a large-scale study into social, biological, and environmental influences on pregnancy, child health and development.

University of Birmingham BRIDGE Fellow Dr Justina Zurauskiene will work with researchers in Guangzhou to use BIGCS data to explore how population dynamics affect women and children's health.

BIGCS participants are part of a generation that has undergone rapid economic transition in China, offering a unique research opportunity for better scientific understanding in this area. Migration, changes in working patterns, and altered environmental exposures can have significant health impacts.

And microbiology experts from the University will use cohort data to help explore issues around antimicrobial resistance, population genetics, and childhood allergies, again supported by Birmingham’s expertise in data science.

The agreement was signed by University of Birmingham Provost Professor Tim Jones, who commented: “The University of Birmingham already enjoys a long and fruitful partnership with Guangzhou Women & Children’s Medical Center. We believe that establishing a Joint Research Institute will lead to future successes in tackling maternal and childhood health issues in southern China.

“Our expertise in computational biology is highly regarded and reflected in the University being invited to join The Alan Turing Institute – applying our data science knowledge to support research in Guangzhou will provide an excellent platform to further our understanding of the health challenges facing our Chinese partners.”

Professor KK Cheng, Director of the Institute of Applied Health Research at the University of Birmingham, said: ”BIGCS is an excellent example of the successful collaboration between Guangzhou and the University of Birmingham. It is recognised by the international research community as one of the most important research platforms for the study of a range of conditions that affect pregnancy outcomes and the health and development of children.”

The University of Birmingham recently joined the UK’s prestigious Alan Turing Institute, which was set up to advance the world-changing potential of data science. It was named in honour of the British pioneer whose work in theoretical and applied mathematics, engineering, and computing laid the foundations for the emerging field of data science.

Professor Jean-Baptiste Cazier, Director of the Centre for Computational Biology at the University of Birmingham, commented: “We have the opportunity to work with Guangzhou Women & Children’s Medical Centre and use our data science expertise to help improve healthcare for thousands of people in southern China.

“The use of data science will help to develop many exciting opportunities – for example analysing the microbial content of our bodies can, potentially, tell us more about health than genomics, and data science can help us unlock that medical potential.”

Professor Huimin Xia, President of Guangzhou Women and Children’s Medical Centre, commented it would be of great significance to establish this joint research institute working with The University of Birmingham.

“Data science could help predict future public health challenges for families, communities, and the health care system, thus we are all looking forward to bring about well-being enhancement for mothers and children in South China,” he said.

Recognised for its data science expertise, as part of Birmingham Health Partners, the University of Birmingham will lead one of six new research sites across the UK created as part of a £54 million project to address challenging healthcare issues through use of data science; improving diagnosis, refining prognosis, and personalising treatment for patients both regionally and nationally. 

The University of Birmingham has a long-standing relationship with the city of Guangzhou, which is also the sister city of Birmingham itself. The University opened its Guangzhou Centre in 2011 and its China Institute has forged close links with partners in the city and beyond.

For more information or interviews, please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0) 121 414 8254 or +44 (0)782 783 2312. For out-of-hours enquiries, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The history of collaboration between China and the University of Birmingham dates back almost to the foundation of the University in 1901. The University’s China Institute was created in 2012 to reflect Birmingham’s extensive academic activities its colleagues undertake in China. 
  • The Born in Guangzhou Cohort Study (BIGCS) is a large-scale prospective observational study investigating the role of social, biological and environmental influences on pregnancy and child health and development in an urban setting in southern China. Pregnant women who reside in Guangzhou and who attend Guangzhou Women and Children’s Medical Center for antenatal care in early pregnancy are eligible for inclusion. Study recruitment commenced in February 2012 and will continue until December 2020 to achieve the target sample size of 50,000 mother–child pairs.