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Predicting life expectancy with big data

Statisticians, computer scientists and medical researchers for the UK’s University of East Anglia (UEA) are launching a project that uses big data’ to predict life expectancy.

This research could be used to develop more robust, personalised treatments as well as bringing practical, financial and medical benefits – such as helping people plan for retirement, and knowing how particular drugs such as statins or beta-blockers affect patients predicted longevity.

The four-year project has been launched through £800,000 of funding from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA).

Lead researcher Prof Elena Kulinskaya from UEA’s School of Computing Sciences said: ‘People around the world are living longer. We want to develop software tools that use big data routinely collected by healthcare providers to forecast longevity. When we talk about Big Data what we mean is data that is vast, complex and difficult to analyse. We want to be able to use it to see statistical life expectancy trends, based on large-scale population-based data collected over the long term.’

While big data will largely be unstructured population-based data, computer science and statistics tools can be used to predict common responses to certain chronic illnesses and treatments – enabling healthcare professionals to develop treatments which help to promote longevity and life expectancy.

‘We want to identify and quantify the key factors affecting mortality and longevity, such as lifestyle choices, medical conditions and medical interventions’ commented Kulinskaya. ‘We are particularly interested in understanding how various chronic diseases and their treatments impact life expectancy,’ she added.

Researchers from UEA’s School of Computing Sciences will work alongside medical and health scientists from Norwich Medical School, with assistance from technical experts at Aviva.The researchers will develop new statistical methods to model mortality, find trends in morbidity, and assess life expectancy, based on Big Data.

Kulinskaya said: ‘Pension contributions were recently freed, so now people can take their pension pots out and use them as they wish. But to be able to plan for retirement, and to understand how much you can spend, it is good to have some idea of your life expectancy. Our estimates of life expectancy will only be true on average, not at the individual level.’

This is exactly what we are trying to do for a number of chronic medical conditions. We also want to be able to estimate how some popular drugs, such as statins or beta-blockers, may affect longevity’ stated Kulinskaya.

The research project, entitled ‘Use of big health and actuarial data for understanding longevity and morbidity risks’ is one of three research programmes nationally to receive funding from IFoA, after proposals involving more than 100 institutions from 20 countries.

Prof Mark Cross, chair of the IFoA’s Research and Thought Leadership Committee, commented: ‘We set out some of the key challenges in actuarial science and were overwhelmed with the response from the actuarial community in how it would seek to address those challenges. 

‘What we have here are three world-class programmes and I am delighted that they will form the foundations of our newly expanded Actuarial Research Centre.’


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