In 1948, around 5,000 people in Framingham, Massachusetts responded to a call for participation in a study on health and lifestyle habits. They underwent physical exams and in-depth interviews about their health every two years. A generation later, 5,000 more of their adult children agreed to join the study. The results of this ambitious project are one of the largest and most successful health research projects on the books, identifying all of the major risk factors for heart disease that we know today: high blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, obesity. In fact, the very concept of identifiable “risk factors” for heart disease (let alone other conditions) is due in large part to the astounding results of the Framingham Heart Study and the vision and ambitiousness of the project.
Something similar is happening in Canadian cancer research today with the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, known locally as the BC Generations Project. Their goal? Enroll 300,000 Canadians over the age of 35 to attempt to identify risk factors for developing cancer and, along the way, creating a massive research database of health information that stretches across all strata of Canadian provinces and lifestyles.
Participants are followed for decades, building layers of information that will create a rich database. Researchers will have access to data and can propose analyses that will identify patterns and information that will potentially explain some of the causes of cancer and other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart and lung disease.
There is remarkable potential for the long-term, large-scale perspective of this population laboratory to improve our understanding of cancer and other chronic diseases. The development of these diseases is often shaped by multiple factors over a long period. [link]
In BC, the goal is to enrol 40,000 people by 2012, and they are apparently about the third of the way there. They joined Twitter not too long ago and I have been trying to put my finger on the public health parallels ever since. Their enthusiasm and ambition is infectious. They need your help. I’m too young to join, but why don’t you go in my place?