‘Portraits of people, not patients’: hackathon cites art’s role in cancer care

Simon Tolhurst, artist for the Portrait Project, at the Cancer Data Dive.

Healthcare experts joined data scientists, technologists and clinicians  this weekend to mentor and guide twelve teams who are developing digital prototypes to improve cancer care in the NHS in Scotland.

The ‘Product Forge Cancer Data Dive’ teams are using newly released healthcare data to develop their prototypes. They have  been provided with specially generated synthetic data that models internal NHS data, alongside several other large open data sets provided by NHS National Services Scotland. Artificial synthetic data enables the development of tools and processes that could later, with appropriate NHS data control, be applied in real healthcare settings.

Mentors from The Data Lab, the NHS National Services Scotland, and Information Services Division, Toshiba Medical, the University of Edinburgh, Breast Cancer Now and Digital Treetop are collaborating to support the Cancer Data Dive participants.

The three-day event included presentations from several experts as teams focused on identifying opportunities and market research. Clifford Nangle, working with The Farr Institute, presented the newly released synthetic data with Beata Nowok, whose research group at the University of Edinburgh is developing synthetic data as part of the Synthpop project. Alex Chandler, from the Information Services Division, followed Nangle’s workshop with a description of the range of open data provided by the NHS available in U~SMART, Urban Tide’s open data platform.

The final presentation, focused on the stories of the patients behind the data, was given by Simon Tolhurst, the artist behind the Portrait Project which is organised by Haematology Cancer Care (HCC), supporting patient experience within the UCLH Haematology Unit. Tolhurst has drawn around 250 patients, friends and relatives, during chemotherapy. He said it allowed patients to reflect and talk, while requiring no exertion on their part, and helps them to focus on themselves as a person instead of a patient.

Participants in the Cancer Data Dive.

Mary Allison, director for Scotland at Breast Cancer Now, said that the collaboration between Project Forge and Scottish Cancer Innovation challenge to deliver the cancer data dive “is an exciting and innovative project. I’ve been amazed at the energy and focus of the teams who are working to develop ways of improving cancer care through imaginative uses of data.” Tolhurst added: “The environment is really vibrant, with great energy. People are collaborating, comparing ideas, cross pollinating skills and knowledge which I think is really valuable”.

Tammy Watchorn, head of Innovation at National Services Scotland, said: “I am really energised by the room and there is a great buzz going on. I am really impressed with the ideas that I have seen. I’ve been around most of the teams and there are some really good things emerging.” Dr Michael Barry, a Product Forge alumni participating at the Cancer Data Dive, added: “It is a fantastic opportunity for clinicians, coders, data scientists and business people to get in a room and talk about some really important issues. It is also a great opportunity to have a really large impact on the care of the cancer patients”.


About Product Forge and the Cancer Innovation Challenge
Product Forge brings together developers, creatives and entrepreneurs to build new products that solve real world problems.  It run hackathons with a twist; our hack events develop teams and products that tackle society’s hardest challenges. Participants use design thinking and digital technology to rapidly prototype their ideas, with support from mentors who have real world commercial experience. Product Forge also livestreams for a range of technology, design and enterprise events, including interviews with startup founders and entrepreneurs.

The Cancer Innovation Challenge is funded by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and is a collaboration between the Data Lab, the Digital Health & Care Institute and Stratified Medcine Scotland. It is also supported by NHS National Services Scotland, the Usher Institute, the Innovative Healthcare Delivery Programme, The University of Edinburgh, the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit and Stirling University. The project main objective is to encourage Innovation Centres in Scotland to work in partnership to help Scotland become a world leading carer for people with cancer through open innovation funding opportunities for data science solutions to cancer care.