Research in modern biomedicine and social science is increasingly dependent on the analysis and interpretation of microdata (data on individual subjects) or on the co-analysis of such data from several studies simultaneously. Making individual-level data available so that it may be queried by researchers – or other professional users – raises important ethico-legal questions and can be controversial.

DataSHIELD provides a novel technological solution that can circumvent some of the most basic challenges in facilitating the access of researchers and other health care professionals to individual level data. Although initially developed for work in the biomedical and social sciences, DataSHIELD can be used in any setting where microdata must be analysed but cannot physically be shared with the research users.

DataSHIELD facilitates important research in settings where

  • a co-analysis of individual-level data from several studies is scientifically necessary but governance restrictions prevent the release or sharing of some of the required data, and/or render data access unacceptably slow
  • equivalent governance concerns prevent or hinder access to a single data set
  • a research group wishes to actively share the information held in its data with others but does not wish to cede control of the governance of those data and/or the intellectual property they represent by physically handing over the data themselves
  • a data set which is to be remotely analysed – or included in a multi-study co-analysis – contains data objects (e.g. images) which are too large to be physically transferred to the site of analysis.