Airwave Health Monitoring Study: System map

This is a system map of the UK Airwave Health Monitoring Study, a cohort study and led by Imperial College that’s been following the lives of 53,000 members of the police force since 2004. The original purpose of the study was to determine if police radios have detrimental health effects, and now the cohort data and biobank is used to study many different health outcomes.

A biobank is a system for collecting, processing and storing data and biosamples from participants in such a way that they can be used by researchers within their studies.

The study is ongoing, and the original Airwave cohort is currently being invited back screenings. So far, the study has found no link between police radios and adverse health effects.





Data and Sample Acquisition

Airwave staff coordinate and set up temporary screening clinics across the UK in order to collect data and samples from as many people as they can. Coordinators then invite people to take part in the study where they will also receive a free health screening.

At the clinic, participants are asked by a nurse to consent to the collection of a wide variety of data and biosamples as part of the study.

During the screening, a nurse collects information and biosamples from the participant in a consistent manner that meet the requirements set out during the study design.

The nurse takes body measurements (weight, height, blood pressure, etc.) alongside an ECG reading and also collects samples of the participant’s blood and urine.

Participants answer questions about their health background and take cognitive tests, and some are asked to keep a 7-day diary of all food and drink consumed. In the earlier stages of the study, 7-day radio diaries were also completed by participants.

Participants also consent to allow researchers to access data that was collected prior or external to the study. This includes their NHS data (Hospital Episode Statistics) alongside their Police force records on any absences due to sickness as well as their usage of the Tetra radio system. Finally, they also consent for the study to be informed

When the screening is complete, the biosamples and data are transferred to both virtual and physical locations for processing.

I chose to represent the study clinic and other ‘real-life’ spaces within the Airwave system as three-dimensional isometric cubes to differentiate from virtual spaces in the study (such as the data portal, Imperial ‘Secure enclave’, and so on). Here, all data and samples that move through the System Map start from the patient: data collection ‘activates’ the latent data points held within the participant and sends them on their journey through the study system. All data collected from the patient leaves the clinic through the ‘window of consent’ that was ‘opened’ by the participant when they consented to their data and samples being collected for research.




Sample and Data Processing

Once the biosamples and data have been collected from the participant in the clinic, they are sent to various data and sample processing centres so that they can be analysed further and prepared for storage. These processes include ECGs being analysed and coded, data being acquired from NHS or the police force databases, and blood and urine samples being prepared by the pathology laboratory for long-term storage.

Some data processing might happen at a later stage when there is more funding is available. For example, a new grant funded metabolomic analysis and genome mapping for some of the cohort.

As elsewhere in the collected artworks, where data and sample processing is completed in a physical space, they are represented by three-dimensional isometric cubes, and when data is held in a virtual space, represented by a two-dimensional square.



Data and Sample Storage

Once prepared and processed, a participant’s data and are transferred to their final storage locations within Imperial College.

For data, this means a database within an Imperial College ‘Secure Enclave,’ and for biosamples, this means long- term NIHR storage in Milton Keynes.

However, not all data is neatly organised within the database. There may be some participant datasets resulting from further research and analysis that, while technically available, are not in a format whereby they can be easily accessed and used by researchers (due to time and budget constraints, certain datasets may be prioritised over others when readying them for research).

I chose to represent the database administrator’s role in putting all incoming data in its proper place through the use swooping, disentangling lines that highlight the movement of data points from their initial to final location in the database.





Data Analysis

The Dementias UK Data Portal is an external site where researchers can apply to access the Airwave study data alongside data from other cohort studies. Once their application has been approved, researchers are able to work with this data through connecting to a virtual machine on their personal desktop in order to keep the data secure.

During data analysis, the researchers might gather disparate data points from an individual together for the duration of their research, then once finished release and disperse these data points back to their location within the Data Portal database. This collection and dispersal of an individual’s data can be undertaken by multiple researchers, often at the same time.

This process is represented within the artwork through solid lines representing points gathered together and dotted lines representing the dispersal of points and their journey back to their location within the Data Portal.


Future Clinic

Years after the initial screening, Airwave participants are invited to take part in a ‘re-screen’ to collect new samples and data and further enrich the study data: the more data collected from the cohort over time, the more valuable the cohort becomes in terms of research.

Also, they might be invited back to a study clinic to take part in new research. This data will then be used in tandem with study data for analysis and may add more data under a participant’s ID within the study, even if that data might not necessarily be accessible by external researchers.