Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Balancing the Two

Enabled by the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers in the UK have been able to sift through the medical records of about 17 million people while safeguarding their privacy, the Economist reports.

While the researchers used this data to examine which populations — men, older people, and people of fewer means, as they report in a medRxiv preprint — might be more severely affected by COVID-19, the Economist writes that the method the University of Oxford's Ben Goldacre and his colleagues employed is also interesting. The approach, dubbed OpenSafely, did not remove or copy patients' electronic medical records for analysis, but instead examined them in place, logging each query the researchers sent. Sam Smith, who co-founded the privacy advocacy group MedConfidential, tells the Economist that this shows research and patient confidentiality don't have to be at odds.

The Economist adds that the researchers were only able to try this approach because of the wide latitude given to the National Health Service to study the pandemic, a situation it notes won't last. "But the OpenSafely team has shown that it is possible to get interesting results without copying data and without asking anyone to trust them with a large, sensitive dataset," it writes, adding that their approach may make it easier for other research teams in the future.

The Scan

ChatGPT Does As Well As Humans Answering Genetics Questions, Study Finds

Researchers in the European Journal of Human Genetics had ChatGPT answer genetics-related questions, finding it was about 68 percent accurate, but sometimes gave different answers to the same question.

Sequencing Analysis Examines Gene Regulatory Networks of Honeybee Soldier, Forager Brains

Researchers in Nature Ecology & Evolution find gene regulatory network differences between soldiers and foragers, suggesting bees can take on either role.

Analysis of Ashkenazi Jewish Cohort Uncovers New Genetic Loci Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

The study in Alzheimer's & Dementia highlighted known genes, but also novel ones with biological ties to Alzheimer's disease.

Tara Pacific Expedition Project Team Finds High Diversity Within Coral Reef Microbiome

In papers appearing in Nature Communications and elsewhere, the team reports on findings from the two-year excursion examining coral reefs.