The European Union has awarded a grant of EUR 12 million to the University of Groningen and the University Medical Center Groningen to combine the data from several large-scale European population studies. This is a real boost for research into chronic age-related diseases. In future, these studies will be able to conduct more actions related to prevention and treatment of individuals.
Chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes and depression are becoming increasingly important in our ageing society. Information about the causes of these diseases is important for better prevention and treatment. In recent decades, many of the factors that cause these disorders have been identified. They include not only genetic factors but also personal ones such as high blood pressure, smoking, education, stress or combinations of these. Once these combinations of causes have been unravelled, individual risk can be determined as well as which preventive measure or treatment will have the most effect.
Research into combinations of risk factors requires large numbers of participants who need to be followed over a longer period of time. To this end, various European countries have set up large-scale population studies. One of those in the Netherlands is the LifeLines project, a research programme that will eventually cover 165,000 people in the north of the Netherlands. Researchers want to combine the data from different programmes because this will produce more scientific results more quickly.
The data from the different European projects cannot simply be merged because the measurements and procedures are not the same in every country. In addition, there are differences between the participants that need to be taken into consideration when calculating the causes of disease. Finally, within Europe there are also ethical and legislative differences that could hinder the merging of research data.
The UMCG will be coordinating the BioSHaRE-EU project (Biobank Standardization and Harmonization for Research Excellence in the European Union), which has now received funding. The aim is to make it possible to conduct joint research into chronic diseases in Europe. This will be achieved by developing methodologies and technologies to harmonize and standardize existing population studies. The genetic, medical, laboratory and social data will be worked on separately. Attention will also be paid to the ethical and legal aspects.
In the first instance, the UMCG will use five major population studies: LifeLines (Netherlands), Hunt (Norway), Lifegene (Sweden), KORA (Germany), UK Biobank (UK). Altogether, these projects have nearly 1.5 million participants. The methodologies found will then be applied to other population studies. BioSHaRE is being conducted within the European context of population studies BBMRI (Biobanking and Bio-molecular Resources Research Infrastructure, www.bbmri.eu), in close cooperation with the global consortium in this field P3G (Public Population Project in Genomics).
Research into chronic and multifactor diseases is an important part of the UMCG Healthy Ageing project. After all, the prevention of chronic diseases contributes to healthy ageing. Several departments at the UMCG are involved in BioSHaRE, in particular the departments of Epidemiology and Genetics
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