March 29, 2018

Q and A with Dr. Philip Awadalla, Scientific Director of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project

Dr. Philip Awadalla poses for a photo in a hallway

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

The leaders of the CPTP stand in front of servers storing the Project's data.

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.

Continue reading – Canada’s largest health research platform teams up with University of Toronto to accelerate cancer and chronic disease research

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.

Genetic, health and disease data of participants from Montreal, Quebec City and Saguenay were linked with environmental information such as air pollution, walkability and access to food to see how these factors impact gene expression. Participants were enrolled in the Quebec arm (CARTaGENE) of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP), which supports research into environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors related to the development and progression of cancer and chronic diseases. More than 300,000 Canadians, 1 per cent of the population, have enrolled in CPTP since its launch in 2008.

The study used deep characterization of gene expression signatures from participants and linked that data with environmental information. “We were surprised to find that we were able to stratify genetic ancestry within Quebec, identifying individuals whose descendants were from Montreal versus Saguenay for example,” explains Dr. Philip Awadalla, the study’s senior author. “This helped us to show how most gene expression is not derived by ancestry, and that environmental exposures associated with living in a particular city or region are more impactful on gene expression associated with disease traits than heritable variation.”

One of the main findings of the study was that exposure to higher levels of particulate matter and nitrous dioxide in the Saguenay area affected the expression of genes associated with oxygen pathways and respiratory function. This resulted in higher rates of respiratory ailments such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The study also revealed that there are genetic variants that control how a person’s gene expression responds when exposed to environmental stimuli.

“This study demonstrates Ontario’s leadership in research and in particular, the importance of big data,” said Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. “Today, with quantities of data never before available, we are able to make important discoveries that will help us fight and overcome disease.”

“Our study shows how one can use the large scope and scale of data in Canada’s largest health cohort to better understand how our genes interact with environmental exposures and shape individual health,” says Awadalla. “I encourage all those engaged in this type of research, both in Canada and around the world, to take advantage of this resource.”

Awadalla is Director and Sr. Principal Investigator, Computational Biology, OICR, the Executive Scientific Director of the Ontario Health Study (Ontario’s CPTP cohort), Director of the Genome Canada, Canadian Data Integration Centre and Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto.

Controlled access to cohort data and biological samples is available to researchers through the CPTP Data Portal and CARTaGENE.

About OICR

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) is a collaborative, not-for-profit research institute focused on accelerating the translation of new cancer research discoveries to patients around the world while maximizing the economic benefit of this research for the people of Ontario. Funding for OICR is provided by the Government of Ontario.

For more information, please contact:

Hal Costie
Senior Communications Officer
Ontario Institute for Cancer Research

January 24, 2018

Ontario Health Study calls on participants to complete follow-up questionnaire before March 31

Illustration of four arms holding up surveys

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

Ontarians come together to help Ontario Health Study collect 41,000 blood samples

Ontario Health Study logo

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

January 17, 2017

First follow-up questionnaire to strengthen Ontario Health Study data

Illustration of four arms holding up surveys

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.

Continue reading – First follow-up questionnaire to strengthen Ontario Health Study data

June 16, 2016

Study examines mental health in common ethnic minorities in Ontario

Large Group of People

Ethnocultural minorities are more likely to report suffering from mental health issues but are less likely to access treatment, a study out of York University using Ontario Health Study (OHS) survey data has found.

Continue reading – Study examines mental health in common ethnic minorities in Ontario

May 13, 2016

OICR researcher receives $2 million in federal funding to study metabolic conditions that can lead to cancer

The OHS Team

Dr. Philip Awadalla and the Ontario Health Study team.

Chronic health conditions place a heavy burden on patients and their families, and cost the healthcare system and the Canadian economy staggering amounts. Chronic diseases were behind 67 per cent of total direct costs in health care and 60 per cent of total indirect costs as a result of early death, loss of productivity and foregone income, according to a 2006 study by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Globally, non-communicable disease (NCD) was made a priority by the World Health Organization, leading to the formation of the NCD Alliance and the Sharjah Declaration, which aims to reduce the global burden of NCDs.

Continue reading – OICR researcher receives $2 million in federal funding to study metabolic conditions that can lead to cancer

May 2, 2016

$2 million in new funding from Canadian Institutes of Health Research will help Ontario team study metabolic syndromes

Dr. Philip Awadalla

Dr. Philip Awadalla

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.

Continue reading – $2 million in new funding from Canadian Institutes of Health Research will help Ontario team study metabolic syndromes

November 15, 2015

New study on effect of trees rooted in Ontario Health Study data

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.

Trees! Like the article

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.

Continue reading – New study on effect of trees rooted in Ontario Health Study data