Advanced Research Computing


Coding for COVID - developing software with researchers tackling the pandemic

With their longstanding relationships with groups like CMIC and the IHI, the Research Software Development Group are well placed to contribute to COVID related research projects

Picture of a coronavirus showing surface spikes, photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

8 April 2020

We’ve seen a rapid response from groups across UCL as they realign towards tackling the COVID-19 pandemic at every level. Expertise is being drafted in from across college and the Research Software Development Group (RSDG) have been no exception as their longstanding relationships with groups like the Centre for Medical Image Computing (CMIC) and the Institute of Health Informatics (IHI) makes them well placed to contribute.

All the Research Software Development Group staff who were already working part time on projects with CMIC and IHI are now working full time on those activities, and others have been brought in to help speed up delivery of software solutions as needs arise. More than half of the research software developers are currently working on projects related to the pandemic response, helping to rapidly build up the tools, platforms, and data repositories researchers will need as they work on new treatments and models.

One example has seen the group developing a workflow for extracting medical images from the NHS repository (NHSX) and uploading them to a server hosted by UCL Computer Science. This project led by Dr Geoff Parker will create a repository of CT scans and X-rays from COVID-19 patients, providing access to the latest data for researchers working in respiratory medicine across the country.

Another software development project, a long running collaboration with UCLH, has rapidly come to the fore for the team. Over the last two years they have been building the Experimental Medicine Applications Platform (EMAP) in UCLH with the aim of providing researchers with an environment where their code can be run on near-real-time patient data without incurring operational risk to the hospital’s core systems. When the idea was conceived it’s unlikely that anybody anticipated just how important EMAP would be, but it is now being used as part of the trust’s COVID-19 response, providing the data pipeline for the DECOVID national initiative to apply data science modelling in support of proactive care and management during the pandemic.

The group are already using EMAP to develop various dashboards for the UCLH intensive care units and have been helping out on numerous other projects on an ad hoc basis. If you are working on research related to the pandemic response and you need software development support or advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the group as they can offer extra free support in the form of code review, bug fixing and improving code performance.