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1.  Physical Disability, Anxiety and Depression in People with MS: An Internet-Based Survey via the UK MS Register 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e104604.
People with Multiple Sclerosis are known to have a relatively high prevalence of both anxiety and depression. Studies of the relationship between physical disability and mental health in people with MS have reported mixed results, showing the need for further work.
Between May 2011 and April 2012, 4516 people completed the MSIS-29 (v.1) and HADS scales via the dedicated internet site of the UK MS Register within a 7 day time window. These responses were linked with basic demographic and descriptive data and analysed in SPSS (v.20).
The proportions of people experiencing anxiety or depression increased with physical disability such that 38.0% of respondents with low, and 66.7% with high disability reported at least mild anxiety, and 17.1% of people with low, and 71.7% with high disability experienced at least mild depression. The multiple regression model explained 18.4% of the variance in anxiety with MSIS-29-PHYS score being the strongest predictor of anxiety. The model for depression explained 37.8% of the variance with MSIS-29-PHYS score being the strongest predictor. Some of the other variables included showed negative associations with anxiety and depression, indicating that the influence of physical disability on mental wellbeing could be underestimated.
This study indicates that there is a positive relationship between physical disability and anxiety and depression, that physical disability impacts on anxiety and depression to differing extents, and that the effects vary with gender, age, disease course and disease duration. We have shown that physical disability is a predictor of anxiety and depression, and that other factors may mask the extent of this effect. Whether the causes of anxiety and depression are reactive, organic or a combination, it is essential that mental wellbeing is given due attention in caring for people with MS so that all their health needs can be met.
PMCID: PMC4143231  PMID: 25153835
2.  A case study of the Secure Anonymous Information Linkage (SAIL) Gateway: A privacy-protecting remote access system for health-related research and evaluation☆ 
Journal of Biomedical Informatics  2014;50(100):196-204.
Graphical abstract
•SAIL Gateway is a privacy-protecting safe haven and secure remote access system.•It provides secure data access to approved users.•It is a powerful platform for data analysis activities.•The system is able to accommodate a growing data user base.•This is a challenging field with further improvements in progress.
With the current expansion of data linkage research, the challenge is to find the balance between preserving the privacy of person-level data whilst making these data accessible for use to their full potential. We describe a privacy-protecting safe haven and secure remote access system, referred to as the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Gateway. The Gateway provides data users with a familiar Windows interface and their usual toolsets to access approved anonymously-linked datasets for research and evaluation. We outline the principles and operating model of the Gateway, the features provided to users within the secure environment, and how we are approaching the challenges of making data safely accessible to increasing numbers of research users. The Gateway represents a powerful analytical environment and has been designed to be scalable and adaptable to meet the needs of the rapidly growing data linkage community.
PMCID: PMC4139270  PMID: 24440148
AIX, Advanced Interactive eXecutive; ALF, Anonymous Linking Field; CIPHER, Centre for the Improvement of Population Health through E-records Research; DB2, a family of database server products developed by International Business Machines (IBM); DP, Data Provider; HTTPS, HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure; IGRP, Information Governance Review Panel; LSOA, Lower Super Output Area; NHS, National Health Service; NWIS, NHS Wales Informatics Service; RALF, Residential Anonymous Linking Field; SAIL, Secure Anonymised Information Linkage; SQL, Structured Query Language; UKSeRP, UK Secure Research Platform; VPN, Virtual Private Network; Data linkage; Remote access system; Privacy-protection; e-Records research
3.  How People with Multiple Sclerosis Rate Their Quality of Life: An EQ-5D Survey via the UK MS Register 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65640.
The EQ-5D is a widely-used, standardised, quality of life measure producing health profiles, indices and states. The aims of this study were to assess the role of various factors in how people with Multiple Sclerosis rate their quality of life, based on responses to the EQ-5D received via the web portal of the UK MS Register.
The 4516 responses to the EQ-5D (between May 2011 and April 2012) were collated with basic demographic and descriptive MS data and the resulting dataset was analysed in SPSS (v.20).
The mean health state for people with MS was 59.73 (SD 22.4, median 61), compared to the UK population mean of 82.48 (which is approximately 1SD above the cohort mean). The characteristics of respondents with high health states (at or above +1SD) were: better health profiles (most predictive dimension: Usual Activities), higher health indices, younger age, shorter durations of MS, female gender, relapsing-remitting MS, higher educational attainment and being in paid employment (all p-values<0.001). Conversely, the characteristics of respondents with low health states (at or below -1SD) were: poorer health profiles (most predictive dimension: Mobility), lower health indices, older age, longer durations of MS, male gender, progressive MS, lower educational attainment and having an employment status of sick/disabled (p = 0.0014 for age, all other p-values<0.001). Particular living arrangements were not associated with either the high or low health status groups.
This large-scale study has enabled in-depth analyses on how people with MS rate their quality of life, and it provides new knowledge on the various factors that contribute to their self-assessed health status. These findings demonstrate the impact of MS on quality of life, and they can be used to inform care provision and further research, to work towards enhancing the quality of life of people with MS.
PMCID: PMC3679154  PMID: 23776516
4.  The Physical and Psychological Impact of Multiple Sclerosis Using the MSIS-29 via the Web Portal of the UK MS Register 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e55422.
The MSIS-29 was developed to assess the physical and psychological impact of MS. The aims of this study were to use the responses to the MSIS-29 via the web portal of the UK MS Register to: examine the internal properties of the scale delivered via the internet, profile the cohort, and assess how well the scale measures impact of disability on the potential workforce.
Between May 2011 and April 2012, 4558 people with MS completed the MSIS-29(v.1). The responses were collated with basic demographic and descriptive MS data and the resulting dataset was analysed in SPSS(v.20).
Internal consistency was high (Cronbach's alpha 0.97 MSIS-29-PHYS, 0.92 MSIS-29-PSYCH). The mean MSIS-29-PHYS score was 60.5 (50.6%) with a median of 62 and the mean MSIS-29-PSYCH score was 24.8 (43.8%) with a median of 24. Physical scores increased with age and disease duration (p<0.001, p<0.001), but there was a weak negative relationship between psychological scores and age (p<0.001). The odds of people having an employment status of sick/disabled were 7.2 (CI 5.5, 9.4, p<0.001) for people with a moderate physical score, and 22.3 (CI 17.0, 29.3, p<0.001) for people with a high physical score (relative to having a low physical score).
This largest known study of its kind has demonstrated how the MSIS-29 can be administered via the internet to characterise a cohort, and to predict the likely impact of disability on taking an active part in the workforce, as a reasonable proxy for the effects of MS on general activities. The findings examining MSIS-29-PHYS and MSIS-29-PSYCH scores against age support the use of two sub-scales, not a combined score. These results underline the importance of using a scale such as this to monitor disability levels regularly in guiding MS care to enable people to be as active as possible.
PMCID: PMC3561202  PMID: 23383186
5.  A Large-Scale Study of Anxiety and Depression in People with Multiple Sclerosis: A Survey via the Web Portal of the UK MS Register 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41910.
Studies have found that people with Multiple Sclerosis experience relatively high rates of anxiety and depression. Although methodologically robust, many of these studies had access to only modest sample sizes (N<200). The aims of this study were to use responses gained via the web portal of the UK MS Register (N>4000) to: describe the depression and anxiety profiles of people with MS; to determine if anxiety and depression are related to age or disease duration; and to assess whether the levels of anxiety and depression differ between genders and types of MS.
From its launch in May 2011 to the end of December 2011, 7786 adults with MS enrolled to take part in the UK MS Register via the web portal. The responses to the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) were collated with basic demographic and descriptive MS data provided at registration and the resulting dataset was analysed in SPSS (v.16).
The mean HADS score among the 4178 respondents was 15.7 (SE 0.117, SD 7.55) with a median of 15.0 (IQR 11). Anxiety and depression rates were notably high, with over half (54.1%) scoring ≥8 for anxiety and 46.9% scoring ≥8 for depression. Women with relapsing-remitting MS were more anxious than men with this type (p<0.001), and than women with other types of MS (p = 0.017). Within each gender, men and women with secondary progressive MS were more depressed than men or women with other types of MS (p<0.001, p<0.001).
This largest known study of its kind has shown that anxiety and depression are highly prevalent in people with MS, indicating that their mental health needs could be better addressed. These findings support service planning and further research to provide the best care for people with MS to help alleviate these debilitating conditions.
PMCID: PMC3408498  PMID: 22860028
6.  The feasibility of collecting information from people with Multiple Sclerosis for the UK MS Register via a web portal: characterising a cohort of people with MS 
A UK Register of people with Multiple Sclerosis has been developed to address the need for an increased knowledge-base about MS. The Register is being populated via: a web-based portal; NHS neurology clinical systems; and administrative data sources. The data are de-identified and linked at the individual level. At the outset, it was not known whether people with MS would wish to participate in the UK MS Register by personally contributing their data to the Register via a web-based system. Therefore, the research aim of this work was to build an internet-mounted recruitment and consenting technology for people with Multiple Sclerosis, and to assess its feasibility as a questionnaire delivery platform to contribute data to the UK MS Register, by determining whether the information provided could be used to describe a cohort of people with MS.
The web portal was developed using and JQuery with a Microsoft SQL 2008 database. UK adults with MS can self-register and enter data about themselves by completing validated questionnaires. Descriptive statistics were used to characterise the respondents.
The web portal was launched in May 2011, and in first three months 7,279 individuals registered on the portal. The ratio of men to women was 1:2.4 (n = 5,899), the mean self-reported age at first symptoms was 33.8 (SD 10.5) years, and at diagnosis 39.6 (SD 10.3) years (n = 4,401). The reported types of MS were: 15% primary progressive, 63% relapsing-remitting, 8% secondary progressive, and 14% unknown (n = 5,400). These characteristics are similar to those of the prevalent MS population. Employment rates, sickness/disability rates, ethnicity and educational qualifications were compared with the general UK population. Information about the respondents’ experience of early symptoms and the process of diagnosis, plus living arrangements are also reported.
These initial findings from the MS Register portal demonstrate the feasibility of collecting data about people with MS via a web platform, and show that sufficient information can be gathered to characterise a cohort of people with MS. The innovative design of the UK MS register, bringing together three disparate sources of data, is creating a rich resource for research into this condition.
PMCID: PMC3444329  PMID: 22809360
Multiple Sclerosis; Disease register; Data linkage
7.  Protocol for a population-based Ankylosing Spondylitis (PAS) cohort in Wales 
To develop a population-based cohort of people with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) in Wales using (1) secondary care clinical datasets, (2) patient-derived questionnaire data and (3) routinely-collected information in order to examine disease history and the health economic cost of AS.
This data model will include and link (1) secondary care clinician datasets (i.e. electronic patient notes from the rheumatologist) (2) patient completed questionnaires (giving information on disease activity, medication, function, quality of life, work limitations and health service utilisation) and (3) a broad range of routinely collected data (including; GP records, in-patient hospital admission data, emergency department data, laboratory/pathology data and social services databases). The protocol involves the use of a unique and powerful data linkage system which allows datasets to be interlinked and to complement each other.
This cohort can integrate patient supplied, primary and secondary care data into a unified data model. This can be used to study a range of issues such as; the true economic costs to the health care system and the patient, factors associated with the development of severe disease, long term adverse events of new and existing medication and to understand the disease history of this condition. It will benefit patients, clinicians and health care managers. This study forms a pilot project for the use of routine data/patient data linked cohorts for other chronic conditions.
PMCID: PMC2941484  PMID: 20809952
8.  The SAIL Databank: building a national architecture for e-health research and evaluation 
Vast quantities of electronic data are collected about patients and service users as they pass through health service and other public sector organisations, and these data present enormous potential for research and policy evaluation. The Health Information Research Unit (HIRU) aims to realise the potential of electronically-held, person-based, routinely-collected data to conduct and support health-related studies. However, there are considerable challenges that must be addressed before such data can be used for these purposes, to ensure compliance with the legislation and guidelines generally known as Information Governance.
A set of objectives was identified to address the challenges and establish the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) system in accordance with Information Governance. These were to: 1) ensure data transportation is secure; 2) operate a reliable record matching technique to enable accurate record linkage across datasets; 3) anonymise and encrypt the data to prevent re-identification of individuals; 4) apply measures to address disclosure risk in data views created for researchers; 5) ensure data access is controlled and authorised; 6) establish methods for scrutinising proposals for data utilisation and approving output; and 7) gain external verification of compliance with Information Governance.
The SAIL databank has been established and it operates on a DB2 platform (Data Warehouse Edition on AIX) running on an IBM 'P' series Supercomputer: Blue-C. The findings of an independent internal audit were favourable and concluded that the systems in place provide adequate assurance of compliance with Information Governance. This expanding databank already holds over 500 million anonymised and encrypted individual-level records from a range of sources relevant to health and well-being. This includes national datasets covering the whole of Wales (approximately 3 million population) and local provider-level datasets, with further growth in progress. The utility of the databank is demonstrated by increasing engagement in high quality research studies.
Through the pragmatic approach that has been adopted, we have been able to address the key challenges in establishing a national databank of anonymised person-based records, so that the data are available for research and evaluation whilst meeting the requirements of Information Governance.
PMCID: PMC2744675  PMID: 19732426
9.  The SAIL databank: linking multiple health and social care datasets 
Vast amounts of data are collected about patients and service users in the course of health and social care service delivery. Electronic data systems for patient records have the potential to revolutionise service delivery and research. But in order to achieve this, it is essential that the ability to link the data at the individual record level be retained whilst adhering to the principles of information governance. The SAIL (Secure Anonymised Information Linkage) databank has been established using disparate datasets, and over 500 million records from multiple health and social care service providers have been loaded to date, with further growth in progress.
Having established the infrastructure of the databank, the aim of this work was to develop and implement an accurate matching process to enable the assignment of a unique Anonymous Linking Field (ALF) to person-based records to make the databank ready for record-linkage research studies. An SQL-based matching algorithm (MACRAL, Matching Algorithm for Consistent Results in Anonymised Linkage) was developed for this purpose. Firstly the suitability of using a valid NHS number as the basis of a unique identifier was assessed using MACRAL. Secondly, MACRAL was applied in turn to match primary care, secondary care and social services datasets to the NHS Administrative Register (NHSAR), to assess the efficacy of this process, and the optimum matching technique.
The validation of using the NHS number yielded specificity values > 99.8% and sensitivity values > 94.6% using probabilistic record linkage (PRL) at the 50% threshold, and error rates were < 0.2%. A range of techniques for matching datasets to the NHSAR were applied and the optimum technique resulted in sensitivity values of: 99.9% for a GP dataset from primary care, 99.3% for a PEDW dataset from secondary care and 95.2% for the PARIS database from social care.
With the infrastructure that has been put in place, the reliable matching process that has been developed enables an ALF to be consistently allocated to records in the databank. The SAIL databank represents a research-ready platform for record-linkage studies.
PMCID: PMC2648953  PMID: 19149883
10.  Metabolism of p-Cresol by the Fungus Aspergillus fumigatus 
The fungus Aspergillus fumigatus ATCC 28282 was shown to grow on p-cresol as its sole source of carbon and energy. A pathway for metabolism of this compound was proposed. This has protocatechuate as the ring-fission substrate with cleavage and metabolism by an ortho-fission pathway. The protocatechuate was formed by two alternative routes, either by initial attack on the methyl group, which is oxidized to carboxyl, followed by ring-hydroxylation, or by ring-hydroxylation as the first step with subsequent oxidation of 4-methylcatechol to the acid. The pathway was elucidated from several pieces of evidence. A number of compounds, including 4-hydroxybenzyl alcohol, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid, protocatechuic acid, protocatechualdehyde, and 4-methylcatechol, appeared transiently in the medium during growth on p-cresol. These compounds were oxidized without lag by p-cresol-grown cells but not by succinate-grown cells. Enzyme activities for most of the proposed steps were demonstrated in cell extracts after growth on p-cresol, and the products of these activities were identified. None of the activities were found in succinate-grown cells.
PMCID: PMC202249  PMID: 16348913

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