Unlocking the mysteries of cancer and other chronic diseases

Unlocking the mysteries of cancer and other chronic diseases

(Originally Published on National Post)

Why do people who live in British Columbia have lower cancer rates than those who live in the Atlantic provinces? How can we detect cancer earlier, and reduce the risk of developing the disease?

These are just some of the questions at the heart of an ambitious national project that aims to better understand the causes of cancer and other chronic illnesses. In a national collaboration known as the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP), research teams across Canada have recruited volunteers from a wide cross-section of society to participate in a long-term population health study.

CPTP is the largest data collection of its kind in Canadian history. More than 300,000 people between the ages of 30 and 74, living everywhere from urban centres in British Columbia to remote villages in Newfoundland, have signed on to have their health followed over the course of their adult lives.

“This is not your typical clinical research. Participants are acting as citizens, as representatives of the Canadian population, and creating a resource of data and samples to be used by more disease-specific researchers over time,” notes Prof. Bartha Maria Knoppers, director of the Centre of Genomics and Policy at McGill University and one of the socio-ethical and legal architects of CPTP. “There is no direct personal benefit, but they are proud to be contributing to the health of future generations.”

CPTP volunteers have provided researchers with personal health information in a range of areas. They were asked about their education and ethnic background, as well as their medical history, level of physical activity, and alcohol and tobacco use. Nearly half of the participants have also provided blood samples, and all have agreed to be contacted in the future to provide regular updates on their health. This long-term, observational data helps medical investigators establish links between risk factors and health outcomes.