July 23, 2019
Biostatistics Training Initiative (BTI) alumnus brings on new BTI trainee to study Canada’s largest population health dataset using today’s top technologies
Recently, circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) – DNA released from cancer cells that freely circulates in the blood – has garnered much attention not only as an alternative to traditional tissue biopsies, but as a potential blood-based biomarker for early cancer diagnosis.
The ability to detect the earliest blood-borne traces of cancer largely rests in our ability to determine which molecular markers indicate that a cancer is developing – or which patterns in ctDNA can predict whether a cancer will grow. Dr. David Soave sees this as a mathematical challenge that, if solved, could have huge impact for better predicting and diagnosing a wide variety of cancers.
“To find cancer earlier or predict who will develop the disease, we need to carefully compare human samples from those who will develop cancer and samples from those who won’t,” Soave, an Assistant Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and OICR Associate, says. “This type of challenge requires new statistical models, methods and computational techniques that can decipher large, complex and high-dimensional data.”
Last year, the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) unified the data from several provincial longitudinal health studies into a national cohort consisting of more than 325,000 participants who are voluntarily donating their health and biologic samples to research. As some CPTP participants will develop disease and others will not, this dataset provides an unprecedented resource for researchers like Soave to discover the earliest traces of cancer that appear several months to years prior to an initial diagnosis.Continue reading – Blood samples, biostatistics and a fresh perspective: The makings of a cancer prediction machine
August 7, 2018
Big data are ushering in a new era of individualized cancer care and prevention, but not without conceptual and practical challenges. Canadian advances in genomics will be made by or limited by bioinformatics analytical capacity as well as the ability to store and analyze data in new and more sophisticated ways.
To help realize the potential of genomics research in cancer, the Canadian Data Integration Centre (CDIC) platform, led by OICR, offers third generation bioinformatics and genomics tools to support both functional and clinical genomics research. CDIC is the largest academic cancer informatics program in the country – offering customizable, client-oriented access services for data challenges across diverse research areas.
June 19, 2018
Over the past 10 years, more than 300,000 Canadians have volunteered to be part of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP), a research platform that tracks the development of cancers and chronic diseases in the population over several decades to better understand risk factors.
Researchers from across Canada and the University of Toronto published a manuscript in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last week, marking a culmination of effort from hundreds of Canadian researchers to build the project with support from multiple national and provincial funders.
March 29, 2018
Q and A with Dr. Philip Awadalla, Scientific Director of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project
Since 2008, the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) has collected health data and biological samples from more than 300,000 volunteer participants across Canada. Now that its primary data collection phase has concluded, the Project is sharing this data with qualified researchers to help uncover the factors behind cancer and other diseases. It was recently announced that OICR’s Dr. Philip Awadalla will serve as the Project’s National Scientific Director and that OICR will host the Project’s national database and other scientific activities. We sat down with Awadalla to learn more about his vision for CPTP’s future. Continue reading – Q and A with Dr. Philip Awadalla, Scientific Director of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project
March 29, 2018
Canada’s largest health research platform teams up with University of Toronto to accelerate cancer and chronic disease research
Pictured (left to right): Dr. John Mc Laughlin, Executive Director of CPTP; Cindy Morton, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.; and Dr. Philip Awadalla, National Scientific Director of CPTP.
Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) enters a new era of scientific activity under the leadership of newly appointed National Scientific Director, Dr. Philip Awadalla
March 29, 2018 (Toronto) – The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (“the Partnership”) today announced The University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health will be the new national scientific partner of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) – Canada’s national population cohort for precision health. This new scientific partner will enable a strong national scientific vision for CPTP and support leading-edge research on the possible causes of cancer and chronic diseases, leading to more made-in-Canada discoveries and breakthroughs. In addition, the University has announced that Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) will be its strategic partner to deliver the expertise and services needed to lead this key research platform.
March 6, 2018
Study shows that environmental exposures such as air pollution are more determinant of respiratory health than inherited genetics
Toronto (March 6, 2018) – Researchers have found strong evidence that environmental exposures, including air pollution, affect gene expressions associated with respiratory diseases much more than genetic ancestry. The study, published today in Nature Communications, analyzed more than 1.6 million data points from biological specimens, health questionnaires and environmental datasets, making this study one of the largest ever to examine the relationship between gene expression and environmental stimuli. These findings represent a groundbreaking use of big data to uncover the environmental factors that are behind diseases and inform strategies for prevention, an approach that would apply to a number of diseases, including cancer.
January 24, 2018
If you are an Ontario Health Study participant, time is running out to complete the Study’s first Follow-up Questionnaire before it closes March 31. By taking part in the questionnaire, which takes 30 minutes to complete, participants provide an update on their health that can be compared against data from the Study’s initial questionnaire. Scientists will be able to use the data that is gathered and compare data between the two questionnaires to study how lifestyle, environment and family history affect health over time and to develop strategies for the prevention, early detection and treatment of diseases.
The OHS is part a nationwide research platform called the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project that has obtained health data from more than 300,000 Canadians — nearly one in every 50 individuals between the ages of 35-69.
Since the Follow-up Questionnaire was launched in November of 2016, more than 40,000 Study participants have competed or begun the process of completing it. The questionnaire seeks information about a person’s health that may have changed since the first time the provided information about to the Study such as height and weight. Participants can also expect to see some new questions, which seek data on mental health, eCigarette and marijuana use, and the use of over-the-counter drugs.
Participants can complete the Follow-Up Questionnaire by logging into their account and can learn more by reading a set of frequently asked questions. Don’t miss this opportunity to help advance health research with just 30 minutes of your time.
June 5, 2017
The samples will be combined with data from OHS’s online questionnaire to help researchers in the fight against chronic disease.
With the help of dedicated Ontarians across the province, The Ontario Health Study (OHS) has finished its blood collection phase, bringing the total number of samples donated by participants to over 41,000. This happened just in time to help the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, of which the OHS is part, reach the 150,000-sample mark for Canada’s 150th birthday.
Now the OHS is focusing on updating and augmenting its data from 230,000 Ontario participants who have completed the OHS online questionnaire to date (participants who provide a blood sample also had to complete the questionnaire). The OHS will be sending out follow-up questionnaires that will gather additional important details on the health and lifestyle of participants. The combination of data gathered from the blood sample collection program and the questionnaires will be used to generate information to help researchers fight chronic diseases such as cancer.
“In early February we let Study participants know that we were nearing the end of our blood collection program and the response from participants looking to donate before it ended was outstanding,” says Ms. Kelly McDonald, Program Manager of the OHS. “I think the fact that people were motivated by this deadline shows how interested the public is in helping health research and being part of something positive.”
The follow up questionnaires will help to make the information collected so far even more relevant for researchers by adding new fields and tracking developments in participant’s health and behaviour. “There are areas where we could use more information,” says McDonald. “We can now address ‘blind spots’ such as the use of over-the-counter medications, marijuana and e-cigarettes.”
The OHS database would be a powerful resource on its own, but the Study has taken steps to make it even more useful for scientists. They are working on cleaning up the data to eliminate inconsistencies and are linking OHS data with those at the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Sciences and Cancer Care Ontario, which hold OHIP claims records and the Ontario Cancer Registry.
The OHS is currently working to increase awareness amongst researchers about the availability of its samples and data, and some researchers are already taking advantage of its potential. A group of Toronto-based researchers have used OHS data in a study looking at the mental health status of ethnocultural minorities in Ontario and their mental health care. In addition, another study called the Canadian Alliance for Healthy Hearts and Minds included OHS participants as a partner cohort.
OHS data will also be supporting research in several of OICR’s new Translational Research Initiatives, which were announced on May 25, 2017.
More information about the Study and further updates can be found at https://ontariohealthstudy.ca/
January 17, 2017
For scientists working to understand diseases and develop new treatments, access to data is key. Ontario Health Study (OHS) participants have already provided the Study with a wealth of information about their health and lifestyle through the OHS online survey, and in some cases, blood samples and physical measures. Researchers can use this information to uncover the causes of various chronic diseases and to inform further research. Now, OHS participants are being given an opportunity to further help researchers by completing a follow-up questionnaire.
May 2, 2016
$2 million in new funding from Canadian Institutes of Health Research will help Ontario team study metabolic syndromes
Toronto (May 2, 2016) – Dr. Philip Awadalla, Senior Investigator at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and Principal Investigator for the Ontario Health Study has been awarded $2 million by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The award will fund the study of the role of both genes and the environment on the development of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of medical conditions that are common in aging adults, including obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and insulin resistance.
These conditions are considered to be both risk factors and causal factors in the development of cancer and chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke and diabetes. A better understanding of how to prevent and treat the conditions of metabolic syndrome could also help in the design of new strategies to prevent these diseases before they develop.
December 1, 2015
The rise of genomics has provided scientists in many fields with insights that would not have been possible only a couple of decades ago. When Dr. Philip Awadalla first became interested in molecular genetics and evolution, genome technologies were just beginning to come to the fore.
“We didn’t have a human genome sequenced yet – the Human Genome Project was not completed – and we were still trying to answer very basic questions, like how many genes do humans have or which genes are important,” says Awadalla, who recently joined OICR as a Principal Investigator. “However, these basic questions are important, because both genomics and the mathematical models for understanding how it functions are the underpinning of all the tools we use in every field of genomics. You can’t understand how a genome works unless you understand where it came from.”
November 15, 2015
Trees provide us with shade and help to clean the air, but new research shows they may also be helping us out in other ways. Using data from the Ontario Health Study (OHS) and City of Toronto forestry records, researchers at the University of Chicago have shown the positive effect that living near trees can have on our health.
The study is the first to use data from the OHS, one of the largest health studies of its kind in Canada, and shows the power of this data for researchers studying how to help prevent chronic disease in our communities.