What is CanPath?
The Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow’s Health (CanPath), formerly called the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, is Canada’s largest population cohort study that allows researchers to explore how genetics, environment, lifestyle and behaviour interact and contribute to the development of cancer and other chronic diseases.
It is a living population laboratory containing a wealth of data from more than 330,000 Canadians — the largest data collection of its kind in Canadian history — aged 30-74 who are voluntarily sharing their health and biological information over several decades. These data are studied by researchers to better understand disease risk factors to help unlock the mysteries of cancer and other chronic diseases.
Data are compiled, harmonized, de-identified and made accessible to researchers worldwide. Baseline and follow-up data from five regional cohorts have been harmonized across the country, creating a pan-Canadian resource of more than 2,300 measures of participant health and lifestyle factors, including, but not limited to: personal and family disease histories, medication use, sex and reproductive health, diet and nutrition, sun exposure, and alcohol and tobacco use.
How will CanPath improve the health of Canadians?
Cancer and chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease can take a long time to develop. As CanPath participants age, researchers look back at their health data to search for factors linked to disease onset. By analyzing information provided over time, researchers may be able to determine why some people develop certain cancers and chronic diseases and others do not.
These types of studies have in the past successfully pinpointed links between genetics, environment, behavioural factors and health on cancer development. For example, the British Doctors Study linked smoking to lung cancer, and the Framingham Heart Study connected obesity and heart disease.
How will individuals and communities benefit from CanPath?
Many CanPath participants have stories of cancer and other chronic diseases within their own families, while others simply believe in the value of scientific discovery to reduce the incidence of disease in the future.
The data and biological samples provided by CanPath participants enables researchers to better understand the interaction of genetics, environment and lifestyle factors related to cancer and other chronic diseases, as well as identify potential prevention strategies.
Can individual participants see their DNA results?
Generally participants will not receive individual results or be notified when their information is used by researchers in the future. No one — including family members, friends, employers or insurance companies — will be able to access any personal health information collected for CanPath.
There are some exceptions. If researchers discover something unexpected that could significantly affect a participant’s health (known as an incidental research finding) or reveal a serious condition that could be treated or prevented, CanPath staff will work in partnership with the Research Ethics Board to determine how this information should be communicated to the participant.
For scientists & researchers
What benefits can researchers derive from CanPath?
CanPath is a prospective cohort study that provides exceptionally detailed information to researchers around the world. The breadth and depth of unique data gives researchers unprecedented opportunity to examine the potential causes of cancer and chronic diseases, and ultimately to identify better treatment and prevent disease in the future.
Thanks to more than one billion pieces of data and hundreds of thousands of biological samples, scientists can investigate the complex interplay between lifestyle, genetics and environment, and how these factors influence the health of generations to come. Most participants have agreed to the linkage of their questionnaire and biospecimen data to their administrative health records and are open to being re-contacted for ancillary studies by their regional cohorts to collect additional data and samples.
CanPath allows researchers to tackle challenging questions at lower cost, in less time. It can save researchers time — sometimes up to a decade — associated with arranging and measuring their own population samples. Since the project will follow individual participants for 50 years, with the potential to collect additional data over time, its value will grow as the data set becomes larger over time.
CanPath has already attracted international collaboration. The platform’s wealth of information has been collected in such a way that researchers worldwide can apply CanPath data to their own work or combine CanPath data with other global cohorts, such as the UK Biobank or the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study.
These new data linkages enrich the platform, improve the competitiveness of Canadian research and provide opportunities for made-in-Canada discoveries.