What is a TRE & How Can They Help Your Organization Manage Sensitive Data?

Using the built in capabilities of Snowflake and Streamlit, manage your Trusted Research Environments efficiently and securely.
July 3, 2024
what is a tre answered
Picture of Dana George

Dana George

Lead Data Scientist | Healthcare & Life Sciences at Hakkoda

Picture of Murali Gandhirajan

Murali Gandhirajan

Healthcare and Life Sciences Field CTO at Snowflake

Over the course of the past decade, healthcare research has become increasingly reliant on the analysis of sensitive data. To ensure that this data is used responsibly and securely, organizations are turning to Trusted Research Environments (TREs). But what is a TRE? And how can you manage one effectively?

A Trusted Research Environment is a combination of software and hardware configurations and governance processes whose ultimate goal is data security. Think of a TRE as the collection of tools and processes that work together to ensure that a researcher’s data is always secure and regulation compliant.

The importance of TREs in healthcare research cannot be overstated. As the ability to analyze vast swaths of data becomes more integral to research, it is crucial to protect the privacy and security of individuals whose information is being evaluated. TREs provide a secure environment for researchers to work with sensitive data, ensuring that privacy concerns are addressed while still enabling valuable insights to be gained from the data. With the growing need for collaboration among researchers and institutions, TREs also facilitate secure data sharing and promote transparency in research practices.

In this article, we will explore the key features of TREs as well as how to set up a TRE environment using Hakkoda’s TRE setup and management tool on the Snowflake AI Data Cloud. While a robust TRE is absolutely necessary, a poorly-managed TRE can slow down research time by limiting data accessibility, leaving researchers beholden to slow and onerous security processes.

Building and Managing an Effective TRE is Crucial for Research Organizations

So exactly what is a TRE’s function within healthcare research organizations? Broadly speaking, a TRE ensures data security and privacy while simultaneously facilitating things like inter-organizational collaboration, AI/ML data processing and analysis, and regulatory compliance. This means an organization’s TREs are responsible for everything from data encryption, access controls, and monitoring to data anonymization and curation—and much more.

What is a TRE’s Key Function for Healthcare Researchers

  1. Security: TREs employ strict security measures, such as encryption, access controls, and monitoring, to prevent unauthorized access to data and ensure the confidentiality of participants.
  2. Privacy Preservation: TREs typically have processes in place for data anonymization, linkage, and curation to minimize the risk of re-identification and maintain data quality.
  3. Governance: TREs have clear guidelines and protocols for data access, use, and sharing, which are usually overseen by a dedicated team or committee responsible for ensuring compliance with legal, ethical, and regulatory requirements.
  4. Collaboration: TREs often facilitate collaboration among researchers from different organizations or disciplines by providing a neutral platform for data sharing and analysis.
  5. Multi-Modal Health Data Management: TREs have capability to easily and securely ingest, process and apply AI/ML to gain valuable insights from the multi-modal health data
tre model

Setting up a TRE environment using the Snowflake AI Data Cloud

The Snowflake AI Data Cloud is a powerful cloud-based data platform that offers a range of features well-suited for creating and managing TREs. With its robust security measures, scalable architecture, and support for multi-modal health data and AI/ML features, Snowflake provides an ideal foundation for building a secure and efficient TRE. In the following sections, we will outline the steps required to set up a TRE environment using Snowflake, including configuring security settings, managing data access, and optimizing performance for healthcare research applications

Hakkōda’s TRE Tool Makes Managing Your Environments Easy and Secure

Managing research environments can be a daunting task, but Hakkoda’s Healthcare experts work with clients to identify common challenges and build solutions that automate, scale, and reduce time demands. That’s how Hakkoda’s TRE setup and management tool came to life: out of our clients’ needs for easy, secure, and scalable TRE solutions. Our tool ensures best practices, streamlines data accessibility and authorization, and offers customization to cater to your organization’s unique research needs. We understand that a TRE is only useful if it can be seamlessly integrated into your workflow while being tailored to your specific operations and processes.

Hakkoda’s TRE setup and management tool was built by Healthcare researchers for Healthcare researchers. As a result, it provides:

  1. A no-code solution: The TRE setup and management tool from Hakkoda utilizes Streamlit and Snowflake, making it accessible to users of all skill levels.
  2. Meaningful data security: With this solution, data never leaves Snowflake, ensuring a high level of security.
  3. Easy environment management: Quickly stand up new trusted research environments, manage their creation, deletion, and archiving, and customize user access.
  4. Customization: Build unique cohorts for your specific research needs and gain insights into usage tracking to detect any malicious or inappropriate use.

Hakkoda’s TRE Tool simplifies and secures the management of your research environments, allowing you to focus on what matters most – your research.


tre management tool

Building and Maintaining TREs Using Streamlit Application Is Intuitive and Powerful

Building and maintaining TREs using the Streamlit Application is both user-friendly and potent. Streamlit’s strength lies in its easy accessibility, and this solution capitalizes on that, offering innovative ways to manage your TRE effortlessly.

Building a TRE

Within the Streamlit application, you can select your database, schema, tables, and columns, while also creating and assigning access to specific roles or generating new ones. Once you’ve chosen your base dataset and built your skeleton environment, you can begin subsetting the data for cohort analysis.

The no-code, drop-down selection allows you to name your cohort, choose your base environment, and filter your data to suit your research requirements. Selected cohort of patient data then gets loaded into the skeleton TRE environment for use by the research teams.

Monitoring and Maintaining TREs

In this Streamlit application, you can monitor your environments, view information about each one, and manage them with easy buttons to delete and archive. This provides clear visibility and insight into the following factors:

  • A list of all TREs in your account
  • Environment status: active or archived
  • When each environment was created
  • Who has role-based access to each environment

Auditing and monitoring are also vital aspects of a trusted research environment, and with Hakkoda’s TRE search tool, you’ll have quicker insights into things like unauthorized attempts to access data and potential security incidents in real-time. This can significantly reduce auditing timelines, thereby enhancing workflow efficiency and productivity.

Above all, TREs safeguard the privacy of sensitive research data. It’s imperative that data is stored and transmitted securely so that it’s only accessible by authorized researchers. With Hakkoda’s solution, you can implement features like two-factor authentication and role-based access controls to ensure researchers only have access to the data required for their studies.

Hakkōda is Here to Help You Get the Most Out of Your TREs

With this new tool, building and managing TREs becomes easier and more secure for Hakkoda clients, allowing them to focus on driving world-changing outcomes and discoveries.

Developing solutions like the TRE setup and management tool is just one way that Hakkoda helps our clients get the most out of their data stack. As Snowflake’s Healthcare and Life Sciences Services Partner of the Year, the Hakkoda team is deeply committed to driving healthcare research forward with cutting edge data processes and a responsive consulting approach. Our mission is simple: to help save patient lives with data. The creativity and innovation we bring to achieving that mission is anything but. The Hakkoda helps organizations identify their unique needs and build transformative data capabilities to meet them.

Looking to get the most out of your data platform? Want to increase the efficiency and security of your research environments? Let’s talk today about how Hakkoda can help you build the data functions you need to succeed.

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