What are cohort studies and why are they important in UK health research?
A study which works with a specific group of people to understand how health and wellbeing change over time is often described as a cohort study.
By using this approach researchers gather in-depth information about the factors which affect our health, and how these can change over time. Cohort studies are particularly important to understand the impact of lifestyle, behaviour and the environment. Cohort studies that involve a broad range of people are useful in the development of population based health strategies.
In the UK, cohort studies play a critical role in research, they have broken new ground in understanding the factors which affect human health, informing public health policy and practice and contributing to international health studies.
Cohort studies currently take place across the UK. Participants come from every walk of life, with an estimated 3.5 % of the population having taken part in one or more UK cohort studies (MRC, 2014). Such studies represent a hugely valuable public, scientific and governmental investment in health sciences. More than half of UK cohort studies have been running for over twenty years, representing a unique resource for understanding health.
There are many types of cohort study , from birth cohorts (MRC National Survey of Health and Development, Aberdeen Children Of the Nineteen Fifties, Generation Scotland) and representative population studies (Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies II, European Prospective Investigation of Cancer Norfolk, Caerphilly), through to studies which address specific disease areas (PREVENT, Genetic Frontotemporal Dementia Initiative).
The evolution and adaptation of UK cohort studies
Understanding health and wellbeing over the life course involves multiple interacting factors. Many studies rely on the development of a distinctive relationship between participants and their study teams. These relationships form one of the greatest strengths of cohort studies, enabling them to work closely with participants over many years. Increasingly, cohort studies use cutting-edge technology to improve the quality of the science and to reduce cost. This capacity to adapt and adopt emerging technologies ensures that cohort studies make best use of the investment of both participants and study teams. DPUK is working in collaboration with over 30 UK cohort studies to increase the scope and scale of health research in the critical field of dementia research. By supporting studies to access emerging imaging, genetics and data technologies, DPUK supports cohort development and cross-cohort collaboration. Supporting collaboration enables researchers to draw on the diverse range of detailed information to address increasingly challenging questions about the risk-factors related to the development of dementias.
Such collaborative networks represents a wider evolution in UK science with researchers working together to address key health questions and develop best research practices. Collaborations across cohorts aim to make best use of the rich and diverse data collected by individual studies. Linking health data in new ways, UK research aims to increase the potential of science to understand key health challenges and identify new research questions.
Dementias Platform UK is a collaboration between Academic and Company partners, working together to speed up dementias research. Please click on the links below for more information.
Members of our Company Partner Forum explain the benefits of industry and academia working together.