Zika Online Data-sharing Platform
The Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology leads a multi-disciplinary team of clinician scientists, epidemiologists, geneticists, engineers, computational biologists and radiologists from Brazil, the USA and UK, to produce an online, digital information platform for images of fetal and newborn heads (plus associated clinical records) as a global data-sharing resource.
In November 2015, the Brazilian Ministry of Health reported an unusual increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly in the north-eastern states of the country, during a Zika virus outbreak. The worst affected state was Pernambuco, where the incidence of microcephaly that year was 77 times higher than in 2010-14. Microcephaly literally means a smaller head than expected for a baby’s age and sex. The rationale for the online data sharing platform is to enable researchers to mine and interrogate the participant level data so as to:
1) Improve the characterisation and objective assessment of fetal and newborn heads against INTERGROWTH-21st gestational age specific standards;
2) Explore, as potential diagnostic markers, the facial characteristics of newborns and infants with suspected microcephaly
3) Facilitate research into the causal association between Zika virus infection in pregnancy and microcephaly.
In simple terms, we aim to determine whether the size and shape of fetal and newborn heads can be measured accurately by analysis of images alone, and whether there are any facial features (similar for example to those found in Down’s Syndrome) that are characteristic of microcephaly due to infection with Zika virus, as opposed to one of the many other causes.
We are working closely with Laura Merson and Philippe Guérin at IDDO (Infectious Diseases Data Observatory, University of Oxford), as they have developed unique Ebola (iddo.org) and malaria (wwarn.org) data sharing platforms that provide portals for collaboration across the clinical and research communities. Data sharing is the key to optimising outbreak response by expediting scientific innovation, increasing the efficiency of research investment and improving the quality of analysis.
In collaboration with the research groups listed below, we are building a secure, online, digital information platform for transferring, storing and analysing anonymised 2D and 3D photographic, ultrasound, CT and MR images of fetal and newborn heads (plus associated clinical data) from studies already initiated by the Brazilian Medical Genetics Society Zika Embryopathy Task Force (SBGM-ZETF) and Microcephaly Epidemic Research Group (MERG).