The Ontario Health Study is one of the largest projects worldwide focused on the factors that influence chronic illnesses
(October 18, 2010—Toronto, ON) A team of Mount Sinai Hospital researchers and clinicians, in partnership with several universities, medical research institutes and hospitals across Ontario, are conducting a new health study on the population of Ontario, with support from the Canadian and Ontario Governments.
The Ontario Health Study (www.ontariohealthstudy.ca) is a population-based health study aimed at investigating the factors that increase individual and community risk of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and other common illnesses. It will be the largest volunteer cohort study ever conducted in Ontario, and is designed to be a ‘big-vision’ scientific project of international significance.
“We will follow people across their entire adult lifespan and we hope that this study outlives those of us who started it,” said Professor Lyle Palmer, Executive Scientific Director of the study, and a Senior Investigator at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital. “No one has ever tried to engage an entire community in this way before.”
The study will pay special attention to the complex interplay of factors that underlie the development of many of the most common and/or chronic diseases, including those that impact family and community health. Findings from the study will be used to help prevent common diseases, and to assist doctors and researchers in finding new targets for diagnosis and treatment.
“This study is a game changer,” said Professor Palmer. “We hope the results will change how we practice clinical medicine, how we conduct research, and how we turn research into clinical practice.”
“To really understand health and disease, we need to learn more about variation from person to person, the underlying causes, and also what changes over time and why,” said Dr. Julia Knight, a Lunenfeld Senior Investigator and scientist involved in the study. “To do this we need a very large number of people who will participate, from all the groups in the community. The Ontario Health Study is a tremendous opportunity for us to make progress in understanding why some people stay healthy and others do not, and come up with better ways of keeping more people healthy. I am very excited that this is happening here in Ontario.”
Participants in the study must be 18 years of age or older, and the researchers hope to recruit as many of Ontario’s 9.5 million people as possible. The project could make Canada, and Mount Sinai Hospital, a global leader in population health research. A vast database on millions of individuals spanning several decades will allow researchers worldwide to conduct thousands of studies on everything from common chronic conditions such as breast cancer or heart disease, to rare diseases such as brain cancer.
“Mount Sinai Hospital, through its research institute, is a recognized leader in biomedical science with broad areas of expertise that will be leveraged in the Ontario Health Study,” said Professor Palmer.
The hospital will play a key role, as blood and urine samples from people enrolled in the study will be stored and processed in its biospecimen repository. Teresa Selander, Manager of Biospecimen Repository Services at Mount Sinai, said that “the advantages to our researchers are strict quality assurance, best practice storage and handling, and ease of retrieval. These are incredibly valuable samples—it’s truly a ‘bank’ in our eyes.”
The Ontario Health Study began in 2008 with a pilot of 8,000 people from three sites in Ontario. Key Ontario institutions and health groups have endorsed the Ontario Health Study, including Mount Sinai Hospital, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Cancer Care Ontario, the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, among many others.